Simone van der Vlugt - Safe as Houses (2 stars)

Simone van der Vlugt - Safe as Houses

A well-paced home invasion thriller that ultimately borders on predictable

Functionality of language is key in this tight thriller from best-selling Dutch author Simone van der Vlugt. Mother to five year old Anouk, Lisa finds herself in an unimaginably horrific situation: her isolated country home is infiltrated by a convicted murderer. Deeply misogynistic, violent and vile, Kreuger is a mother’s worst nightmare and Lisa must do whatever she can to protect her child whilst the intruder makes himself comfortable in her home.

When a lost motorist pulls up in front of the house and, unseen by Kreuger, spies the unfurling situation through the living room window, Lisa – bloodied, bandaged and visibly distressed – locks eyes with Senta through the glass. That split second of eye contact gives her a thread of hope to grasp. She decides to co-operate with Kreuger, positive that help is forthcoming.

As the hours turn into days, Lisa is forced to accept that Senta either misconstrued the situation or decided against involving herself, despite the obvious and immediate danger Lisa appeared to be in. The narrative hops between Senta’s backstory and current predicament and Lisa as she struggles to placate her frightening and unpredictable houseguest.

It’s a tense narrative technique, but the stripped-back and emotionless nature of the language makes it difficult to empathise with either character. Kreuger’s breadcrumb revelations about the nature of his conviction and the extent of his crimes are terrifying, but ultimately this well-paced thriller borders on predictable.

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