Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"Safe House"

Chris Ewan began his crime-writing career with The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, which was called one the "best books for grownups" by Publishers Weekly and AARP The Magazine, and one of the best thrillers of the year by the London Times.

Ewan applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, the stand-alone thriller Safe House, and reported the following:
If you were reading Safe House, I’d hope that you’d be seriously tantalised by page 69. There’s a big reveal on page 70, one that launches the reader into Part Two of the novel and ushers a cast of dangerous characters into the mix, and much of the work on page 69 is geared towards building suspense.

Here’s the start of the page:
The boiler looked just as I’d left it. The front plate fitted back into position. The exterior wiped clean. ‘The door to the kitchen’s on your left. There’s a light cord next to it.’

She reached above her head to yank the garage door closed. It was at knee height when she ducked down and peered out from below.

‘I think I could have worked that one out for myself,’ she said.
In isolation, this works to some degree, but it helps if you know the background to what’s happening. The guy doing the narrating is the book’s main character, Rob Hale. He’s a heating engineer who recently met a beautiful blonde woman called Lena in a lonely cottage in the middle of some woods. He took her out on his motorbike and they crashed. But ever since he came round from the head injury he sustained in the accident, almost nobody will believe that Lena exists. The police think that he imagined Lena, not least because his description of her bears a striking resemblance to his recently deceased sister, Laura. The only person who really buys his story is a private investigator called Rebecca Lewis.

In the section quoted above, Rob and Rebecca have returned to the isolated cottage where he claims to have met Lena. It’s an important moment for Rob, but Rebecca freezes him out of it. Why? Well, because she has an uncompromising attitude, not to mention her own agenda, and I think there’s some indication of that here.

The other character to feature on page 69 is Rob’s dog, Rocky, a pedigree golden retriever.
‘Rocky?’ I called, my ribs smarting with the effort. ‘Rocky?’

I knew my dog. I knew he wouldn’t come right away. This was his first adventure in days and he’d want to savour it.

I took a moment to think about where he might be…
Where he might be is in the woods behind the cottage.
A rough path had been beaten through the grass to my right. It looked Rocky-sized and led to the back corner of the garden, where a wire fence had been pushed flat against the ground by the encroaching treeline. I waded through the grass. Stepped over the fence.


I heard a bark. Coming from ahead.
And that’s where page 69 ends, leaving both Rob and the reader to wonder what Rocky may have found in the darkness of the woods. I think there’s some sense here that it won’t be good. Perhaps it’s even scary – and with Rebecca occupied inside the cottage, Rob is going to have to deal with it by himself.

Spooky, right? Well, I certainly hope so.
Learn more about the author and his work at Chris Ewan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue