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SAFE HOUSES by Dan Fesperman Kirkus Star


by Dan Fesperman

Pub Date: July 3rd, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-525-52019-1
Publisher: Knopf

In 2014, 35 years after Berlin-based CIA worker Helen Abell went rogue to uncover a high-level agent as a serial rapist, she and her husband are murdered in their farmhouse on Maryland's Eastern Shore—both shot in the face with a hunting rifle.

Initially, it is assumed that the couple's mentally ill 24-year-old son, Willard, committed the crime. But his older sister, Anna, believing him incapable of such an act, hires Henry Mattick, an investigator, to help uncover the truth. She is amazed to discover that her secretive mom was once a spy in Europe and may have been targeted in connection with her activities there. The book continues with alternating sections following Anna in the present and Helen in the past. In Berlin, the innocent but strong-willed Helen, 23, has the job of tending to four safe houses for the Company. During a surreptitious middle-of-the-night visit to one of them, she witnesses a man assaulting a young woman and stops the attack. Warned by her superiors to forget the encounter and stay away from the assailant, an operative code-named Robert, she continues her pursuit on the sly via a network of female colleagues who are well-aware of the man's transgressions. Just as Anna will put her trust in Mattick, who once worked for the Department of Justice in Baltimore, Helen puts her trust—for a time—in her lover, Clark Baucom, a veteran operative with the manner of Robert Mitchum and weariness written into his DNA. Fesperman (The Letter Writer, 2016, etc.) takes a risk in dividing the narratives so cleanly, but the strategy pays off when they converge, one story deepening the meaning and intensity of the other. Unlike some spy novels, this one never bogs down in gamesmanship, spy talk, or cheap reveals. It strives to be truthful.

Prolific spy novelist Fesperman delivers another winner, this one as fiendishly clever as it is richly entertaining.