Safe Houses by Dan Fesperman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Safe Houses?!? More like DANGER HOUSES!!
It’s 1979 in West Berlin and Helen Abell is an aspiring CIA agent. However, thanks to sexism she has been relegated to managing the agency’s safe houses in the city rather than doing any field work. Determined to prove herself, Helen is going the extra mile by checking out one of the houses after hours when she accidently overhears two incidents. One is just strange, but the other is criminal. Helen soon finds both her career and her life at risk, and she finds herself using her spy training against her own people to save herself and expose the truth. The repercussions of what happens in Germany in 1979 are felt in a small town in Maryland 35 years later with a brutal double murder, and a confused young woman seeking answers with the help of an investigator who has his own secrets.
This was a freebie I picked up Bouchercon back in the Before Times, and it’d been sitting in the To-Read pile ever since. I’m glad that I finally picked it up because the story that mixes some Cold War era espionage stuff along with the vibe of a modern crime thriller with some conspiracy theory vibes was familiar enough to be comforting, but different enough to keep me guessing.
I particularly liked what the author did with Helen by making her feel fully fleshed out as bright and ambitious, but also extremely pragmatic and often frustrated with her situation. She makes for a great lead in the 1979 portion of the book.
It’s a satisfying mix of the spy and crime genres, and the investigation portion has plenty of good twists and turns as well although I can’t say much because of spoilers. Overall, it's a solid page turner that kept me engaged the entire time.
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