“The Shadow House” is a pacy domestic thriller tinged with horror; not the kind that makes your skin prickle, or your heart explode at the sound of leaves crunching outside your window à la Stephen King (although, yeah, maybe check that out); rather the discomforting kind of horror that evokes a creeping sense of dread.
At the heart of Anna Downes’s second novel are two women both trying to escape the trauma of their pasts and manage through the trials and tribulations of parenthood. Their plot lines, separated by six years, are linked tangentially at first, then become increasingly knotted.
Genre critics sometimes indulge themselves by scoffing at loopholes or implausibilities in thrillers that could not possibly exist without them. These people want their fiction grounded in a world of physical and psychological plausibility. They want characters to ask the obvious questions, or react rationally; but characters in thrillers do not, because then the problems would be solved (or avoided entirely) and the book would be over.
Thrillers, by their nature, are intended as escapism. And sometimes, to escape, you need to let go; let yourself get swept away by the thrum of the narrative. The thing about “The Safe Place” is that once you know its premise (a struggling actress in London is offered a too-good-to-be-true live-in job working for a wealthy family on their luxurious but isolated coastal property in France) you can guess the story line and many of its beats. But that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best entertainments of the year.
This debut by Anna Downes is slick and polished. She makes every word, every sentence, and every page count. It is a well-oiled machine, with not a single wasted moment. It rips along at a fast clip, cutting between three characters in a cat-and-mouse game towards the truth and a tense climax.
And absolutely, most of us would’ve gotten the hell out of dodge if we were in Emily Proudman’s shoes, when the young girl in her charge displays violently erratic behaviour, and it becomes obvious the opulence of her surroundings mask dark secrets. But forget about that. Just enjoy the ride. The energy of “The Safe Place” is invigorating.
Number Of Pages: 384
Published: 30th June 2020
Publisher: Affirm Press