Anna Clarke is a troubled young woman. Living alone in her childhood home, her life was thrown into turmoil when she was a teenager when someone let her down in a way she had never fully recovered from. Now, her life is dominated by the need for order, for maintaining the routine around which she centres her days, and the feeling of pride she gets from knowing and helping all of the residents on her mail round. She has no real friends, preferring to avoid getting too close to people and her neighbour Mrs Peat is the closest thing Anna has to family.
When Anna witnesses a road collision in which a young man is knocked from his motorbike, she is shocked to recognise the other driver, a woman she thought she would never see again. A woman she blames for the devastating events which changed her life thirteen years earlier. Determined to see the woman pay for what she did to her as much as for the injury she caused to Liam, the biker, Anna resolves to stay close to the investigation. To stay close to Liam, the man who pleaded with her to help him as he lay bleeding in the road.
As Anna begins to obsess over the driver, Carla, she will stop at nothing to find her. But her obsession has unforeseen repercussions and Anna finds herself in trouble with no idea of who to turn to. But not everything is as it seems, and those who Anna thinks of as friends may be hiding secrets every bit as big as the one Anna herself hides in the small box room at the top of the stairs.
‘Safe With Me’ is a fast paced and riveting psychological thriller. Centred around an unreliable narrator who is slowly devolving mentally the more that the story progresses, the narrative style creates an unusual feeling throughout the book. Sometimes told from a first-person perspective with Anna, and again with a mysterious and creepy anonymous voice, some chapters are also in third person. This is an interesting choice, as viewing the world through Anna’s eyes magnifies the lack of a grip on reality and we can see just how blurred her vision of the world around her truly is. Anna has no idea how other people really see her, and because as a reader you are inside of her head, it forces you to consider how the other people may react in a way that Anna can’t, rather than using the standard third person narrative to describe it. Yet when we take a more holistic third person view, we begin to see things very differently.
This obliviousness of Anna as to what is happening around her also adds to the suspense in the novel, as with a few limited exceptions where Anna is not the focus of the narrative, if Anna doesn’t see it herself, neither do we as a reader. Yet we are privy to all of her thoughts, as disturbing as they may be at times, but when we are not in her head, we have no idea what she is up to and so we have no real idea of just who is launching the campaign of hate against ‘Carla’. Is it Anna or not?
The characters in the story are really well written. Liam is engaging and forgiving, eliciting a great deal of sympathy for his plight, his grandmother Ivy, naturally suspicious of Anna and protective of him. ‘Carla’ is written quite sympathetically and Mrs Peat as the interfering but well meaning neighbour. But it is in the portrayal of Anna that KL Slater has truly excelled. She has all the classic hallmarks of someone who has deep rooted psychological issues; OCD, a bit of a loner, tentative grip on reality. And she is creepy in a seriously obsessive way. She has absolutely no concept that what she is doing is wrong. It works brilliantly. Slater has not over written the character of Anna, creating a perfect balance between sanity and a full mental breakdown which leans ever closer to the latter as time goes on.
The events from thirteen years ago are told through a series of flashbacks in which we follow Carla in the weeks leading up to the event which changes both Carla’s and Anna’s life. These sections are developed slowly and carefully, the sense of impending tragedy building with each chapter. We know that something is very wrong in Anna’s home life, and yet the way Slater has written this means that for every suspicion you may have, you will be startlingly and tragically wrong. There are so many twists and turns, enough misdirection that you will be kept guessing right to the end. There are few people in this story who will not surprise you.
If I have one criticism that has probably had me shave off half a star, it is the ending. We fast forward half a year, the conclusion told through Anna summing everything up rather than seeing it first hand. It kind of felt as though we had run out of time to tell the story in full so we just got the highlights from Anna’s perspective. And because it was Anna’s perspective I’m not sure how much of it I believe. But she was still delightfully barmpot crazy, so it’s not all bad.
A great debut which will keep you gripped right to the last page, earning it a deeply disturbed and totally obsessive 4.5 stars.
I reviewed an advance reader copy of ‘Safe With Me’ provided by NetGalley and publishers Bookouture.
‘Safe With Me‘ is released on 3rd November and is available to buy here: