This engaging page-turner kept me surprised and entertained during a flight delay – what better recommendation is there? Seriously, whether or not you’re a mystery fan, Safe As Houses is a great read anywhere. It has so many pleasing components — Liz, a bookish dog-walker turned sleuth when her hound sniffs out a dead body in one of Toronto’s most genteel parks; Sammy, her fractious teenaged kid who can’t cope with her boring mom; Maxime, an elegant French Classics professor and Roman-antiquity quote-dropper. And more. There’s a subplot; Liz’s marriage to Adam is over, and he lives upstairs with his girlfriend in the building that houses her bookstore. He wants out of his investment, provoking enough uncertainty in Liz’s life without a dead body showing up on her morning walk.
The parallel storytelling is very well done and builds suspense. At the outset, we’re introduced to an abused child, a box of matches, an act of arson. His story (noted by a matchbox icon) is interspersed with the numbered chapters of Liz’s narrative, as we gradually realize who the child is and why it matters. In the end, the mystery gets solved, but there’s no tidy ending; it feels both as satisfying and as shadowy as life often feels. In its gentle way, the story keeps reminding us that safety is never certain and life keeps surprising us, even on innocent dog-walks. You’ll enjoy this book.