cover image Safe Houses

Safe Houses

Dan Fesperman. Knopf, $26.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-525-52019-1

This effective thriller from Fesperman (The Letter Writer) opens in 1979 West Berlin, where Helen Abell, a low-level CIA functionary, accidentally overhears and tape records a violent encounter between a much higher ranking officer, Kevin Gilley, and a German woman. Helen intervenes, incurring Gilley’s wrath; when the woman turns up dead, Helen seeks to bring Gilley to justice. In general, the resourceful Helen does the best she can to deal with the era’s sexism with the help of a sisterhood of CIA women determined to make a difference. Flash forward to 2014. Helen and her husband have been murdered on their Maryland farm, and the only suspect is their mentally ill son, Willard. Believing Willard incapable of murder, daughter Anna hires PI Henry Mattick to investigate. Anna is shocked to discover that her mom was once a spy; the reader won’t be surprised to learn that Mattick isn’t quite what he appears to be—or that there are deep, dark secrets within the CIA. Aficionados of quality spy fiction will be rewarded. Agent: Jane Chelius, Jane Chelius Literary Agency. (July)