A Book Spy Review: ‘Safe Houses’ by Dan Fesperman

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Safe houses.jpgDan Fesperman weaves two storylines — one set in 1978 Berlin, the other in modern-day America — together in his latest high-stakes thriller. 

Stationed in West Berlin, Helen Abell, a young-twenties, low-level CIA officer, happens across a disturbing situation one night while paying a visit to one of the four safehouses she’s charged with taking care of.

Used by operators when in theater, the safehouses are an intricate part of the CIA’s efforts in Europe and vital to their success. During a routine check-up on one of her assigned locations, Helen accidentally observes Kevin Gilley, a high-ranking operator, assaulting a German woman. In the aftermath of the encounter, Helen is all but told by her superiors to forget what she witnessed and to never say a word. That doesn’t sit well with her though, especially when the woman whom Gilley assaulted turns up dead days later, prompting Helen to launch her own investigation into Gilley, whom she believes is a serial rapist.

Using a chain of women who share her concerns, Helen is able to navigate the sexist culture within the CIA during the late 1970s, but her findings, more explosive than she ever could have imagined, continue to follow her for decades. . . 

In the present day, Helen and her husband are found dead in their Maryland home. During their search for the killer, the police lock onto Williard, the couple’s mentally ill son, as the number-one suspect. Williard’s older sister, Anna, who quickly proves to have more in common with her mother than she initially thought, doesn’t believe him to be capable of murder. To help prove his innocence and find out what really happened, Anna hires Private Investigator Henry Mattick, who once spent time with the Justice Department, to do some poking around. 

As the story unfolds, alternating between past and current events, Mattick uncovers a number of shocking secrets, each one raising the stakes even higher than before.

Fesperman delivers one solid twist after another, and his stunning conclusion will leave even the pickiest spy fans feeling deeply satisfied. While the back-and-forth narratives take a little time to get used to, the writing is so good that after a few chapters, readers will realize that both perspectives are essential to the plot. Moreover, both threads are wildly entertaining and work together to build a steady crescendo of suspense. 

Fesperman’s strong prose meets a cast of beautifully developed characters, all of whom have various secrets and a multitude of layers, in this seriously twisty thriller. . . Safe Houses is one heck of a ride and a must-read for spy fans everywhere. 

Book Details

Author: Dan Fesperman
Pages: 416 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0525520198
Publisher: Knopf
Release Date: July 3, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 8.0/10

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Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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