Safe Houses by Dan Fesperman

Safe Houses

Dan Fesperman

Set against the secrecy and surveillance of the Cold War, Safe Houses is both a spy thriller and a murder mystery about an overheard conversation that leads to an inexplicable multiple murder in a small town.

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"One of the great espionage novels of our time."
--Lee Child

In this gripping new work of suspense from the author of The Double Game, a young woman discovers a nefarious truth at the heart of the CIA's operations in postwar Berlin and goes on the run for her life; years later she's gruesomely murdered along with her husband, and her daughter begins to chase down these startling secrets from her past.

West Berlin, 1979. Helen Abell oversees the CIA's network of safe houses, rare havens for field agents and case officers amidst the dangerous milieu of a city in the grips of the Cold War. Helen's world is upended when, during her routine inspection of an agency property, she overhears a meeting between two people unfamiliar to her speaking a coded language that hints at shadowy realities far beyond her comprehension. Before the day is out, she witnesses a second unauthorized encounter, one that will place her in the sight lines of the most ruthless and powerful man at the agency. Her attempts to expose the dark truths about what she has witnessed will bring about repercussions that reach across decades and continents into the present day, when, in a farm town in Maryland, a young man is arrested for the double murder of his parents, and his sister takes it upon herself to find out why he did it.

Advance Galley Reviews

How can you say you love a book but hate the ending so much?? I've never read a book by this author, and it's definitely not one I would've normally picked up had it not been an ARC that I was offered. So I was extremely pleasantly surprised to have loved it so much. It was smart, and twisty and shocking at times. That's the reason the ending disappointed me so badly. It was cheap compared to the rest of the book. However I'd still recommend it for sure and will definitely be checking out other titles by this author!

I liked that this book was written in a back and forth method. It added depth and layers to the story. I found that there was a lot of suspense that added to the overall story and kept me engaged. This was the first novel I have read by this author and would definitely be encouraged to read more. Thanks for the ARC, First to Read.

I hate reviews with spoilers so you won't read any here. All you'll get is my humble opinion about the quality of this novel. This is was my first Dan Fesperman novel, but I declare it a must-read. I love a story where the author has done his/her research. Mr. Fesperman did his research and delivered a beautifully developed storyline and engaging characters. The plot twists were well thought-out. The author managed to make a novel with dual storylines, past and present, easy to navigate for the reader. Helen and her daughter Anna were both outstanding leading ladies. I was chosen to read an advance copy of this book as part of Penguin's First to Read program. However, the opinions expressed in this review are 100% mine and mine alone.

Safe Houses is a very enjoyable espionage thriller. Engaging and thoughtful plot that kept me guessing. I don’t normally enjoy books with multiple timelines, but here it worked quite well. The ending took me completely by surprise. Highly recommended.

I really liked this book featuring espionage and a mystery. I liked the way it was written in two timelines, going back & forth telling the 'then & now' story. It was a pretty easy, smooth flowing read, considering all the spy business. It was a quick read, keeping me up late reading, which is a good point of review! The only thing I 'take issue' with was the quick seemed kind of 'hurried up/manufactured'...?? I just about reduced my rating to a 3 star rating for that reason, but opted to go with a 4 star rating (5 stars is the best!) to reward the information at the end of the book that gave info on the 'real life/historical' aspects of the story...that was interesting, an educational aspect...always worth an extra star in rating! This was the 1st of this author that I've read, but will certainly look for more of his work now.....I liked it..... I received this e-ARC from Penguin's First-To-Read program, in return for my own independent fair/honest review.

Safe Houses is a terrific espionage thriller that is part espionage story from a divided Cold War Berlin in 1979 where everyone is on edge, isolated, nervous, ready for action, and a more modern-day murder mystery. Fesperman does an excellent job of tying together these two threads and the shadowy characters and lethal black ops agents at work. The focus is on what powerful people can get away with, particularly with vulnerable female agents who have nowhere to turn to. And what gets swept under the carpet only to re-emerge decades Later. Not really a bang-bang shoot-em-up secret agent story for the most part, but nevertheless very very compelling. The focus on strong female leads and women's workplace issues may prove particularly appealing to women. Many thanks to Penguin Publishing for providing a copy for review.

Great characters in both time periods, and interesting parallels and twists.-- a little bit of trying to impose modern politics on another time -- interesting to have the need to have such liberated women fall for older men, though I guess they have their reasons. Great descriptions of spycraft and politics.

ISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Penguin First to Read in exchange for a fair and honest review. Berlin 1979: a city full of spies and counterspies. Espionage was dangerous and involved many ordinary people. Helen was one of them. Even though her job was not one of the highest risk, she knew secrets that could come back to haunt her at any time. Today she would be called a feminist, but in 1979 she was removed from her assignment and dismissed from the agency. She thought being sent back to the states was the worst thing that could happen to her, but she was wrong. August 2014: fast forward to a tiny town in rural Maryland. Willard Shoat shoots and kills his parents as they slept causing uproar in the close knit community. Willard is slow by any man’s definition, but he has never been violent or mean. Sadly, he doesn’t even realize his mother and father are dead or why he is sitting in a jail cell. Anna, his sister, arrives in town to bury her parents and tend to her brother, but is perplexed as to how someone that just wants her to bring his Star War toy to prison could kill their parents in cold blood. She fears he will be lost in the prison system and calls upon a stranger in town to help her find answers. Anna enlists the new guy in town, Henry Mattick, to help her find out the truth. It is rumored he is a PI, which may or may not be exactly true. That being said, he is already on an undercover job and doesn’t really want to become involved with a local fiasco. But something about Anna makes him more than curious about her family. They become an unlikely duo fighting for a small guy in a huge mess. Secrets from the past are revealed, shedding light upon some very dangerous characters that operate outside of the law with the protection of the government. Mr. and Mrs. Shoat may not be the only casualties by the time this fast-paced novel ends. Safe Houses is a heart pounding, breath holding thriller wrapped in intrigue and intelligence. Fesperman’s masterfully blends two stories together to make a powerful book that kept me turning pages late into the night. This is the first book by Dan Fesperman I have read, I don’t know how he was not on my radar because Safe House is his eleventh novel. I am putting the other ten on my Christmas list. Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

I have read other books by Dan Fesperman in the past. I thought they were excellent. Safe Houses was also excellent. The story flowed seamlessly between the two time periods and it was hard to put the book down. The characters were interesting, not all likable. Suspense built as the story went on which is why it was hard to put the book down. I highly recommend this thriller! Great read!

I couldn't put this book down. Enjoyed both the 1970's and 2010's storylines, though 1970's was what initially attracted me to this particular title and felt much better executed. The switching between the two timelines was done in a nice way, not confusing the reader at all. However, it felt sometimes as two different writers wrote the book at times. Or that the editor told possibly the writer to add something here or there for the female readers? The most abrupt for me was the sudden hint of romance during the motel scene. I don't want to include spoilers, but everybody who read the book will know. No attractions hinted before this moment and suddenly in the most impossible moment... bam! Why? Just because there was a bed there? That was the one moment where I stopped reading and took a few-days-long break. The CIA female agents (1970's heroine and the female agent stationed in Paris) were to a certain degree (obviously) inexperienced, yet in one of the major chase scene, one of them executes a perfect action (inflicting an injury that would require incredible precision or a huge amount of luck). We are supposed to see them as females who were capable of much more than given chance to really do by their supervisors but then here and there the odd description of giggles among them or smiles grabbed my attention and felt really strange given the situation the characters were in at that moment. Overall a great spy novel though. Thank you for the advanced free copy!

A great mystery that crosses countries and decades. Do the mistakes of our parents determine out destiny? A sad, mysterious tale.

This is probably one of the better books I've read through this First to Read program. It's a spy novel and a mystery at the same time. I highly recommend it.

I found this book to be an awful read and wasn’t able to even get halfway through it.

I love spy stories, especially women spies, so I couldn't put this book down since I started. There are two main storylines in this book happening together, one in the late 70s and another in the 2010s. The 1970s plot was by far my favorite, but I liked how the author connected both stories and led the reader figure out stuff by giving clues in the two different timelines, but the modern day story just didn't click for me. I don't think there was anything inherently bad about it, it's just that the 1970s European spy in cold war Germany was so much more fascinating! I read this book fairly quickly and I'd give it a 4/5 star review. Thanks First to Read for the advanced copy.

This book had a major was missing pages. Mostly in the first half of the book and of course some of them were at key points. I had no idea Baucom stole the tapes until later in the book. This made me sad and frustrated as I LOVED this book, especially since it is loosely based on several women who did really work for the CIA in the sixties, which made this so much more appealing to me. It started off as a slow burn and built up to action the further along the story progressed. Unfortunately, at first I was a little confused about the transition from the story of Helen's work days to the present. I didn't understand the murder was about her until I read further along in the present day chapter, then everything clicked. The twists and turns kept me guessing until right before the end. The story of three women outsmarting some of the best CIA agents in the field to right some terrible wrongs was compelling and made me wished I was part of the sisterhood. I loved their ingenuity by capitalizing on the strengths they had that wasn't necessary due to physical power but brain power. I will recommend this book to my friends, family, and strangers. I really wish there were more Sisterhood capers in the future.

A very enjoyable read, jumping between 1979 Berlin/Paris and modern-day US east coast. I often got caught up in the action, enjoying myself, and then in a lull, would wonder: wait, there's not all that much to this, is there? I don't know -- the vast conspiracies seemed, well, not so vast, or terribly important in the grand scheme of things. But I did enjoy it, and it was well put-together. A few strong female characters to lead the story, although they felt a little more distant than the main character of the modern-day story, Henry. Still, a fun run and well written. I got a copy to review from First to Read.

This book had me reading until late (early?) into the morning hours when I should have been sleeping. I was hooked. I finished the book the next day and thought that I was reading a different book. The author writes two story lines, one in 1978 Berlin and one in modern day American small town. The main character, Helen Abell, crosses into both timelines, one as a young CIA spy in Berlin and as a murdered character in modern day. The spy story was phenomenal in capturing the politics and sociology of the late 1970s. The modern story fell short for me, particularly in the last 1/4 of the book. I don't know who wrote the dialogue in that last 1/4 for the private investigator/government agent and Helen's daughter, but it didn't feel as though the same author had written about them for the first 3/4. The spy actions in Europe were intense and interesting; the modern day murder and spying just seemed preposterous. Even with my disappointment with the end of the book, I would read it still because the first part of the book and the Europe spy setting was just that good. I've not read any of Dan Fesperman's books before, but I'll be giving his prior books a chance. Thank you to First to Read for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I received a free copy of this book from Penguin First To Read. Told in two parts, 1979 Berlin sees a woman working a mostly clerical CIA job struggling to break out of the box that her sex and her superiors attitude has placed her in. When she accidentally discovers two big secrets and has tapes to prove it, an adventure for her life begins. In the other part, we see the modern day aftermath of her death as her daughter works to figure out what happened and who her mother really was. A spy thriller where no one is exactly what they seem but also a story of women. Really engaging and full of good twists.


More to Explore

  • The Double Game
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  • The Arms Maker of Berlin
  • The Warlord's Son

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