She told you the house would keep you safe. She lied.
Esther is safe in the house. For sixteen years, she and her mother have lived off the grid, protected from the dangers of the outside world. For sixteen years, Esther has never seen another single soul.
Today there’s a man outside the house. A man who knows Esther’s name, and who proves that her mother’s claims about the outside world are false. A man who is telling Esther that she’s been living a lie.
Is her mother keeping Esther safe – or keeping her prisoner?
I enjoyed The Safe House, it’s just the kind of psychological thriller I enjoy: well written, character driven, with many twists and turns. Told in two timelines, the past when the protagonist, Esther, is a child who develops asthma (described throughout as the demon living in her chest) and living with her parents in an industrial town with all the accompanying toxic pollutants. A situation that the reader sees her mother being driven to acute mental stress. And then the present where she and her mother, Hannah, are living in hidden in The House, with filtered air and away from all civilisation. It’s a structure designed and devised by Hannah, to keep Esther safe from asthma attacks.
But it’s a life forced upon the protagonist, and it’s not long before both the extreme, almost unbelievable, conditions and the length of time they have lived like this, is revealed. And, from the start, the restlessness of Esther, at twenty-one years old, and the maniacal determination to keep the status quo by her mother, becomes a tense standoff.
It’s very difficult not to give spoilers in a story such as The Safe House, so I will try to concentrate on the way it is written.
The two main characters, Esther and Hannah are well rounded, created to reveal the many sides of human nature – and then given extreme emotions – entirely acceptable given their claustrophobic and almost dystopian lifestyle.
A lifestyle that Esther is given chance to compare with Out There when a stranger eventually finds her and coaxes her to escape, to meet her father, who she has been told is dead – to go into a “rushing, flashing world” inhabited by people. The description of the settings, from the House to the countryside, the town, the first pub Esther has ever been in, the music festival, the night sky, seen for the first time. (there are so many first times in this section of the plot), give a brilliant sense of place.
This is not a book with many characters but each character is well drawn, each has their own personality, their own distinctive voice to add to the story. But it is the protagonist’s internal dialogue that carries the story; densely written, with each of her actions being considered, each thought, each physical sensation explored and described in a simple yet evocative way. This is powerful writing.
The story begins a little slowly, probably to evoke the sense of normality in a world that is totally artificial, but then moves with sudden twists and turns, some expected, others less so. It’s a good plot that held my attention all the way through to the end.
About Louise Mumford:
Louise was born and lives in South Wales. She studied English Literature at university and graduated with first class honours. As a teacher she tried to pass on her love of reading to her students (and discovered that the secret to successful teaching is… stickers! She is aware that that is, essentially, bribery.)
In the summer of 2019 Louise experienced a once-in-a-lifetime moment: she was discovered as a new writer by her publisher at the Primadonna Festival. Everything has been a bit of a whirlwind since then.
Louise lives in Cardiff with her husband and spends her time trying to get down on paper all the marvellous and frightening things that happen in her head. She is Co-Chair of Crime Cymru, a co-operative of Welsh crime writers, and is part of the team bringing Wales’ first ever in-person crime fiction festival to Wales. Gwyl CRIME CYMRU Festival will take place in Aberystwyth in April 2023.
Her thriller called SLEEPLESS was published by HQ in December 2020 and THE SAFE HOUSE came out in May 2022. SLEEPLESS was the July Asda Karin Slaughter Killer Read in 2021. Her new thriller THE HOTEL will be out in June 2023.
Website: www.louisemumfordauthor.com (sign up to the newsletter for a free short story, giveaways, updates and sneak peeks at new work!)