“Safe House” by Chris Ewan (Minotaur, $25.99)
Most Americans probably have little idea where the Isle of Man is on the map. For the record, this self-governing British Crown Dependency is located in the Irish Sea, between Great Britain and Ireland and may be best known to sports fans as the site of the annual TT (Tourist Trophy) motorbike festival, going on since 1907.
The Isle of Man also makes for an intriguing backdrop for “Safe House,” Chris Ewan’s first stand-alone thriller. “Safe House” works as an emotional story of a family dealing with a tragedy and the action-packed tale of a young man caught up in an elaborate kidnapping scheme. “Safe House” also deftly weaves in elements of the locked-room mystery and the village mystery thanks to the size of the Isle of Man, which is only 32 miles long with a population hovering around 80,000.
Heating engineer Rob Hale’s latest job takes him to a remote farmhouse where two men are staying, along with a chatty, lonely young woman named Lena, who begs Rob to come back for her on his motorcycle. But the couple has just caught the end of the motorcycle races when they have an accident. Rob remembers the ambulance taking Lena away. But when Rob wakes up in the hospital, there is no record of Lena.
Determined to find Lena, Rob teams up with Rebecca Lewis, a private investigator from London. Rob’s parents hired Rebecca to investigate the suicide of his sister, Laura, a few weeks ago.
While the link between Laura and Lena seems too coincidental, Ewan keeps his tightly coiled plot full of plausible twists and turns, each more surprising than the one before.