As a founder member of Mystery Women in 1997, promoting Crime Fiction has always been my passion.
Following the closure of Mystery Women, a new group was formed on 30th January 2012 promoting crime fiction.
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Published by Head of Zeus Ltd, 11 July 2019. ISBN 978-1-78854788-8
In Safe Houses the narrative alternates between
two sets of characters, two main locations and two time zones. Towards the end
of the cold war in 1979 Helen Abell is a lowly employee who manages four safe
houses for the West Berlin station of the CIA. Helen is only twenty-three
and longs for the excitement of a field officer’s job though there is little
chance of this given the prevailing sexist attitudes of that era. Thirty-five
years later, in the rural village of Poston on the eastern shore of Maryland
USA, we meet Helen’s daughter Anna Shoat. She is nearly thirty, has no
connections with espionage of any sort, and had no idea that her mother had
ever been a spy.
lived in Maryland since she went to college and has only returned because her
brother, Willard, who is in his twenties but has the mental age of a young
child, has shot his mother Helen and his father in cold blood. Anna needs
to understand why her brother would have done such a thing. He loved his parents
and was loved by them. She engages the help of Henry Mattick, a newcomer
to Poston whose job was to keep a watch on visitors to the Shoat’s house.
But why was he there and whom was he reporting back to?
to Anna’s and Henry’s questions appear to be rooted in Helen’s former work in
Berlin. On an unscheduled visit to one of her safe houses Helen had
inadvertently witnessed two events of which she shouldn’t have had any
knowledge. She overheard and recorded an incomprehensible, coded meeting between
a field officer and a potential agent, and then she witnessed another officer,
“Robert” trying to rape a local German agent. Helen seeks help from her
fifty-five years old lover, Clark Baucom, who is an experienced CIA field
officer. He advises her to destroy the tapes and to forget about
reporting “Robert” for attempting to rape the young German agent.
having none of it. Incensed by the cavalier attitude of male officers
towards females, Helen goes to Paris to gather evidence against the rapist in
their midst and, with the help of two other girls, she collects the evidence
she needs. But “Robert” is more useful to the CIA and other powerful security
lobbies than is Helen, so senior management side with him. The net result of
Helen’s efforts was that she was fired from the CIA and sent home.
Anna make good headway unraveling the significance of what Helen had discovered
in 1979 though they are still hampered by “Robert” AKA Kevin Gilley, who now
occupies a powerful position in American Politics. As in all spy books,
one’s friends are not necessarily whom they appear to be. This includes Henry
Mattick. The developing relationship between Anna and Henry comes rapidly
unstuck when he confides that he has another paymaster beside herself.
has done his research thoroughly for the background to Safe Houses. The
locations are meticulously described, as are the difficulties and attitudes
experienced by female operatives at the hands of their bosses – one aspiring
young lady only gets to become a field agent after disingenuously confiding to
her boss that she has been “fixed” like a cat or a dog, so there is no danger
of her becoming pregnant on the job! Despite its length – 613 pages - I
found it a very enjoyable read with plenty to worry and hope about and would
recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good spy story with a hint of romance
Angela Crowtheris a
retired scientist. She has published many scientific papers but, as yet,
no crime fiction. In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing
group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the
operas of Verdi and Wagner.