The Safe Place

Anna Downes

The Safe Place
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The Safe Place

Anna Downes

For struggling actress Emily Proudman, life in London is not working out as planned - in fact, it’s falling apart. So when she is offered a live-in job working for a wealthy family on their luxurious coastal property in France, she jumps at the opportunity to start over.

The estate is picture-perfect, and its owners exude charisma and sophistication. But as Emily gets to know the family, their masks begin to slip, and what at first appears to be a dream come true turns out to be a prison from which none of them will ever escape - unless Emily can find a way to set them all free.

Superbly tense and oozing with atmosphere, The Safe Place combines the modern suspense of The Girl on the Train with the gothic mind-games of Rebecca.     


Emily is a receptionist and an aspiring actress in London when her life falls abruptly apart. Fired from her job, dropped by her agent and kicked out of her disgusting flat all at once, she’s at her very lowest point when her old boss Scott comes to her with a proposition: live in his French country home to help his wife renovate their guest house.

It sounds like a dream, and when Emily arrives, it truly is: a glorious, expansive estate with two houses, picturesque gardens, animals, and the beach right nearby. It’s also isolated, without any mobile reception, and there’s something in the main house that feels wrong. But Scott’s wife Nina is luminous, and their daughter Aurelia, while struggling with illness, is responsive to Emily. Life finally seems to be heading in a positive direction – as long as she follows the rules. And doesn’t look too closely behind the crumbling façade of either the property or Scott’s damaged family itself.

British crime has begun to feel very samey recently, but Anna Downes – who now lives in Australia – has brightened up the English psychological thriller and has written a captivating book that kept me intrigued. Emily, despite the flaws that make you despair for her, is an honest and palpably real companion to follow, as is Scott, who gets his own chapters that make you lean into the pages, trying to figure out what’s going on. With enough beautiful vistas to crack your heart right open, and a wide-eyed child to make it bleed, this is a satisfying and devastating debut.

Fiona Hardy is our monthly crime fiction columnist.

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