The Safe Place by Anna Downes, Review: Bursting with secrets

The Safe Place, former actress Anna Downes’ debut is a thrilling novel packed to bursting with atmospheric tension and dark secrets. Read on for our full review.

The Safe Place Synopsis

The Safe Place - Anna DownesNo phones. No outsiders. No escape.

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.

(Affirm Press – July 2020)

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One of the most highly anticipated July 2020 releases, The Safe Place is certainly an entertaining read. Anna Downes clearly demonstrates she understands well the lure and pull of extreme wealth, exclusivity and simmering atmospheric tension. And, the magnifying power those factors have when there are secrets involved. In this respect, the comparisons that have been made to the gothic mind-games of Hitchcock’s Rebecca are apt.

Downes utilises one of my favourite storytelling frameworks, the alternating character narrative, to keep the pace ticking along nicely and peppers her prose with interesting descriptors of people

David shrugged, fake sympathy spreading over his ferrety face like a spill of oil.

and the verdant and luxurious, yet eerily isolated French coastal setting.

Everyone was carrying something, she was beginning to realize. The world was a much darker and more complicated place than she’d every thought.

However, I found the characterization of those in leading roles a little patchy. Emily is young and lost, but I found her naivety and flightiness just a little hard to chew. Over time we grow to learn of the darkness that lurks just beneath the surface for each (and to a degree, what motivates their behaviour) but I did find myself wondering: Can a suspense thriller contain too many dark pasts and secrets?

To my surprise, perhaps it can… But those secrets did manage to keep this reader from realising the truth for far longer than I expected. And ultimately, Anna Downes rewards readers for their time and investment in The Safe Place with an undeniably strong and satisfying conclusion.

The story of how Downes came to writing fiction is compelling (an Author’s Note worth reading) and her authorial and commercial potential is clear, so I look forward to following her writing journey.

BOOK RATING: The Story 3.5 / 5 ; The Writing 3.5 / 5

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Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Drama

Source: Affirm Press

Related Reads:
Ash Mountain by Helen FitzGerald  /  The Wife and the Widow by Christian White   /  Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse  /   The Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner  /  The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day

About the Author, Anna Downes

Anna Downes grew up in Sheffield, UK. She studied drama at Manchester before winning a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and moving to London to pursue an acting career. Her acting credits include EastEnders, Casualty, Holby City, and Dalziel and Pascoe, as well as a long-running stage production of The Dresser in London’s West End.

In 2009 she left to go travelling with her Australian partner, a trip that included a stint working as a live-in housekeeper on a remote French estate, where the seeds for The Safe Place were sown. Anna now lives on the Central Coast with her husband and two children. The Safe Place is being published simultaneously in the US and the UK, with several other countries to follow.

Check out her website and connect with her on Twitter.

* This review counts toward my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2020 and 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge.