Minotaur is one of my favorite publishers, and The Safe Place, with its alluring blue cover and interesting summary, caught my attention immediately. There's something inherently ominous about a thriller with the word "safe" in the title, isn't there?
Emily is struggling: with her job, her goals, with her life in general. Adopted at a young age, she feels like an outsider in her family and has no clear grasp on what her place in the world is going to be. She's broke, she's fired from her temp job, her acting agent drops her from her client list, and she has two weeks to vacate her apartment. With no other options, it seems too good to be true when her old boss reaches out with an amazing opportunity. If Emily is willing, she can take a new job within the company, move to a remote mansion in France to be a jack-of-all-trades with his wife, Nina, and daughter Aurelia. Things are idyllic, until they're not. Emily beings to suspect that there's something off about this family, and she's determined to find out what it is--no matter the consequence. I have to say, going into this, I had no idea where this would end up, and, like Emily's time at Querencia, the twists were subtle, until they weren't. When we first meet her boss, Scott seems like he's going to be a Christian Gray figure. Charismatic, charming, dangerously handsome, and with a secret desire for pain, when I first read his offer (complete with NDA), I thought, oh, yeah. Definitely a weird sex dungeon in France. To save from revealing any spoilers, I'll just say that I was pleasantly surprised at how his character arc played out, even if it was miles from where I expected it to go. Emily, too, is not your typical suspense MC. She's in a strange situation, she has no purpose or goals, and she has no clear idea of what she wants for herself. She's ambivalent about being a caregiver for Aurelia, but eventually comes to adore the child. She's not pitted against Nina, but instead enjoys her company and develops a sort of friendship with her that fills a hole in her heart from her own traumatic childhood. With this, the series of events is quiet and jarring. We never really know what's happening at Querencia until the final section of the book. In a good way, though. There's no shortage of oddities and implied danger. Right off the bat, Nina makes the main house a no-go zone. You know it's only a matter of time until Emily's going to break that rule, but what happens when she does is the real intrigue. While this might not be a heart-in-you-throat suspense, it is certainly a slow-burn with a satisfying conclusion, and I appreciated Anna Downes' handling of the character arcs and conflicts. If you like your suspense novels with exposition and buildup, characters with off-putting energy or questionable morals, this is the book for you. Overall, The Safe Place will leave you feeling anything but safe.
Thank you to Minotaur and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.