Safe House by Chris Ewan
(Minotaur Books, 2012)
Format: Audio download via Audiobook Jukebox (narrated by Simon Vance for AudioGO)
From Goodreads: "When Rob Hale wakes up in hospital after a motorcycle crash he is told that Lena, the woman he claims was travelling with him, doesn't exist. The woman he describes bears a striking resemblance to his recently deceased sister, Laura, but has he really only imagined her? Rob sets out to find the answers to who Lena is and where she has gone. He is aided by Rebecca Lewis, a London-based PI, who has come to the Isle of Man at the behest of his parents to investigate his sister's suicide. But who is Rebecca really and how did she know his sister? Together Rob and Rebecca follow the clues to discover who took Lena. In doing so they discover that even on an island where most people know each other, everyone hides a secret, and that sometimes your best option isn't to hide but to stay and fight."
This is my first Chris Ewan. Won't be my last. I've seen his titles often, since I'm such a Simon Vance fan, and Vance narrates Ewan's Good Thief's Guide series. Safe House is Ewan's first stand-alone mystery, and it's a compelling, transporting tale. As a matter of fact, when I shot my husband a sardonic look for interrupting me in the last 1/4 of this book, and he accused me of being "in a trance with Simon Vance," I would have taken the time to explain that it was the plot that was distracting me from getting stuff done, not the narrator. Except that would have taken time away from the book.
I immediately liked the main character, Rob, who is a solid, trustworthy, everyday kind of guy. A plumber, a motorbike racer, just another resident of the Isle of Man. one whose sister has recently committed suicide, and whose memory may or may not be screwed up after he crashes his bike either with or without a mysteriously missing stranger named Lena. He doesn't see the tangled webs woven by - well, by someone. He can see a couple of strands, enough to make it easy to discount "it's just a result of head injury" as an explanation, and enough to make him suspicious of people he's known for a while, and some newcomers as well. Gradually he decides to just about trust Rebecca, whose story seems almost plausible, if he can accept some strange things about his sister. And Rebecca stands by him, believing in Lena's disappearance, which earns her plenty of points. I wasn't very engaged by Rebecca as a character - she seemed to be a compilation of necessary parts: spy craft, investigative skills, insider knowledge. But not a lot of personal chemistry, which made her hard for me to care about or believe that Rob cared much about. But they team up, and together, they start to trace those tangled webs, which Ewan has laid out in a cunning pattern. There's a good amount of tension in this book, as well as some humor, some not-too-over-the-top complexity, cringe-inducing violence, engaging descriptive passages, and, to make it complete, a good dog.
Vance's narration - what can I say beyond what I always say? His deftness with accents has a real chance to shine here, between the Manx, the Londoners, and the Dutch. This is a slow-paced thriller - or a violence-laden mystery? - either way, Vance's pacing suits it quite nicely, and his calm but determined voice for Rob really carries just the right weight for the character.