Safe Houses

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by Dan Fesperman

Safe-House-book-coverManaging the CIA’s four safe houses in Berlin is hardly a stepping stone on a career path.

Agent Helen Abell, 23, with two years experience under her belt and standard CIA training, wants to be a field agent.

Chief of Station Ladd Herrington finds that absurd: women are analysts, clerks or field agents’ wives. The assignment of managing safe houses, a job previously done by a clerk, is his payback for Helen’s ambition.

But Helen decides to do the best with what she’s been given. She upgrades the housekeeping, the scheduling, the security and the amenities. She lets some leases lapse and acquires new houses — and she makes unscheduled, off-the-books checks on the properties.

Twice during these unscheduled checks, she accidentally overhears something she isn’t supposed to. The first conversation between two men she’s never heard of, who weren’t on the schedule and shouldn’t have had keys, is so studded with coded words as to be gibberish. The second involves a man she knows well from the Berlin station: Kevin Gilley. He’s in the process of raping a woman supplying information to him. Helen interrupts the act.

The next day, Helen finds herself reprimanded and relieved of her security clearances. Gilley, a man allowed to cross the line from time to time because of his special, secret skills, gloats. Within days, the woman he tried to rape is dead.

Now Helen is in the cross hairs. She decides to make a run for it — it turns out to be a race that lasts a lifetime.

This story opens nearly 11 years before the Berlin Wall falls. The Cold War is growing tepid, but the old hands around the Berlin station are veterans of the time when the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was dealing with post-World War II geopolitics.

This is a rare spy thriller in which women play an active role. As the story unspools, it’s clear old secrets never die, and the separation between friend and foe is thin indeed. The juxtaposition between an unthinkable current day murder in a small North Carolina town and the events Helen witnessed decades earlier will keep you turning pages long into the night.

The Author: Dan Fesperman (1955 – )

A former reporter, Dan Fesperman’s thrillers are often inspired by his international assignments in Germany, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East.

During his journalistic career, he worked for the Fayetteville (NC) Times, the Durham Morning Herald, the Charlotte News, the Miami Herald and the Sun and Evening Sun of Baltimore. For the Sun, Fesperman ran its Europe Bureau in Berlin during the Yugoslav civil wars, giving him insider’s background into the Berlin described in Safe Houses and The Arms Maker of Berlin.

Since 1999, he has written 11 novels (as of September 2018). One, Lie in the Dark, won The John Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for best first novel in 1999. He also won the 2003 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for best thriller (The Small Boat of Great Sorrows) and the 2006 Hammett Prize. His book, The Letter Writer, was selected as one of 2016’s Top Ten Crime Novels by the New York Times.
Fesperman is married to Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie and they have two children. He is a 1977 graduate of the University of North Carolina.


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