Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Book Review: Safe House

By Jami Deise

In February, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was found guilty on charges of rape and criminal sexual assault. While stories about Weinstein circulated around Hollywood for years, his arrest garnered expressions of disbelief, relief, and anger. But not just anger at Weinstein. Anger at the women who accused him (“they’re liars” as well as “why didn’t they come forward earlier”), anger at the women who’d taken his cash and signed NDAs, anger at the female lawyer who represented him and insisted she’d never been raped because she’d never put herself “in that position.”

Why is it when a man commits a crime, the women around him are often blamed? He had a bad mother. His ex-girlfriend is a jealous liar. His wife must have been in on it. There’s even a famous phrase in crime fiction, “Cherchez la femme.” Look for the woman.

In Safe House, Jo Jakeman’s fabulous sophomore novel, Steffi Finn has learned this lesson the hard way. She lied for her boyfriend Lee to the police, claiming he was home on the night a local woman was murdered. He swore he was in before nine pm, and she had been too drunk to remember that he came home. But when a second woman died, she couldn’t ignore the coincidences anymore. She went to the police, and Lee was tried and convinced for the murders. Even so, Steffi was sentenced to 10 months in prison for her initial lie. Because of it, it seems the entire world blames her for the death of Lee’s second victim. She’s sent so much hate mail in prison—while Lee gets love letters from besotted women who think he’s innocent and Steffi is the real killer—that when she’s finally released, she changes her name and moves to a small English seaside town to hide. Now Charlie Miller, she tries to avoid her neighbors, but there are no secrets in these villages. Especially since someone seems to know exactly who Charlie is… and wants to make her pay for what she’s done.

Safe House is a gripping psychological thriller that also has a political subtext. Why is it so much easier to blame the girlfriend than the man who actually committed the crimes? Why are women held to a much higher standard, blamed when things go wrong around them, when men escape responsibility time and again? Why do women often blame other women when they are victimized by men?

Jakeman writes in a non-linear fashion, tracing Charlie’s efforts at building her safe house in Cornish in between chapters detailing her relationship with Lee. Lee is a marvelous manipulator, making Steffi doubt and blame herself whenever things go wrong with her boyfriend, making her jump through hoops for his affection. A cold, selfish father primes Steffi to be vulnerable to Lee’s manipulative behavior. It’s not surprising that she initially believed his story about coming home that night; the only surprise is that she went to jail for it.

The author ramps up the tension by alternating Charlie’s third-person point-of-view with narration by two people out to get her, including one who knows exactly where Charlie is. As Charlie ends up becoming friendly with her neighbors despite her best efforts to avoid them, anyone of them could be the one thirsting for revenge.

Safe House is a terrific book by an outstanding author, and I look forward to reading what’s next from her.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Jo Jakeman:

1 comment:

Dianna said...

I saw this cover on Netgalley but didn't request it -- now I regret it because it's not available for requests.