Sophie Hannah needs little introduction. She is a well-established, bestselling author whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages in over 50 countries. You may know her for the award winning The Carrier or for her Hercule Poirot mysteries. Whichever, the name will be familiar, as will perhaps her reputation for complex plots.
Sadly, there is a point at which complex becomes convoluted. It’s that moment when as a reader you find yourself thinking, “this is one step too far”. At which point, in all likelihood, credibility will have been lost.
The suspension of disbelief is a key thriller reader requirement. As a genre, thrillers frequently depend on coincidence and are frequently implausible when you step back a little from your immersion in the reading. To enjoy them, you have to give the writer a certain amount of latitude and trust that the plot will make it all worthwhile.
Unfortunately, Keep Her Safe (published in Britain as Did You See Melody?) is both implausible and too dependent on coincidence to sustain the credibility of its over-complicated plot. And the doubts start from very early on.
Woman On The Lam
Cara Burrows is on the run from emotional turmoil in her domestic life in Hertfordshire, England. Partly to escape, partly as misguided revenge on perceived wrongs, she empties the family savings of a third of their contents and flies off to a five-star spa resort in Arizona in the United States.
Behind her she leaves a distraught husband and her two teenage children, who have for solace a note simply giving the date of her intended return.
Arriving at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, she hires a car and, in pursuit of complete isolation for time to think, entrusts her phone to the car hire attendant in return for a 50 dollar payment. And off she goes, incredulous at her own actions:
“This is truly happening. I, Cara Burrows from Hertford, England, am on my way to the five-star Swallowtail Resort and Spa in the foothills of Camelback Mountain, Arizona. Without my family’s knowledge or permission. To most people, I would look like a woman setting off on the holiday of a lifetime, not one escaping from an unbearable situation.”
Cara’s need to pinch herself is entirely understandable.
Contrived Or Crafted?
The biggest coincidence, or implausibility if you prefer, is still to come. Arriving at Swallowtail late at night after a long and exhausting drive after a long and exhausting flight, she checks in and sets off to her room, having dismissed the offers of the check-in lady to escort her there.
And when she gets there, it is to discover that someone else is already in the room. Exit Cara quickly, but not so quickly that she does not have time to hear a girl say “I spilled Coke on Poggy. And Doodle Dandy,” thus setting up the main plot.
Frankly, there are lots of things wrong with this. It is, to put it mildly, highly unlikely that a woman intending to return to her husband and children would drain the family coffers and blow it on a five star resort in another country, particularly one as far away from England as Arizona (ah, yes, but the American sales…).
It is even more unlikely that she would hand over her phone, least of all to a car hire attendant she has only just met. Five-star resorts do not double book rooms. And they always escort their guests to settle them in and show them how things work.
And, yes, all this does matter because at this point we are only at page 21. At the start of a book we need to believe in the set-up in the certain knowledge that events may become less credible later on. As indeed they do. Much less credible.
A Strange Melody
The core mystery of the book is the little girl who spilled Coke on Poggy. Melody Chapa is the most famous murder victim in America. In a blaze of publicity and trial by television her parents were imprisoned for her murder.
So is it remotely possible that the girl in the hotel room is Melody? Could Melody be alive after all? If so, how, why? The plot thickens and the housewife from Hertfordshire discovers skills that neither she, nor we, knew she had.
I am perhaps being a little unkind to Sophie Hannah because Keep Her Safe is not all bad. Hannah is a professional and accomplished writer and Keep Her Safe has plenty of pace and some great characters.
My particular favourite was lawyer-cum-legal TV host Bonnie Juno, an appalling but often unwittingly amusing firebrand who led the campaign for the arrest and imprisonment of Melody’s parents.
My assumption here is that Hannah has done her homework on the ability of American TV shows to engage with sub judice cases, and if half of it is true then I am surprised anyone ever gets a fair trial in the United States. It’s eye-opening.
So read Keep Her Safe if you want a page-turner with some highly entertaining moments. But only if you are able to suspend your disbelief way better than I could.
Keep Her Safe
Author: Sophie Hannah
Publisher: William Morrow, thriller