While the mean streets of Scotland and Northern Ireland have long been the backdrops to crime novels of varying degrees of grittiness, thrillers set on the Isle of Man seem to be in short supply. (Unless you count Agatha Christie's short mystery story "Manx Gold", which was commissioned to go with a real-life treasure hunt.) Chris Ewan obviously expected that a number of his readers wouldn't be acquainted with the place, so there's a handy explainer at the start of Safe House describing its location (half-way between the Lake District and Northern Island) its size (32 miles long and 14 wide), its population (80,000) and the fact that every year the island stages the Isle of Man TT (tourist trophy) motorbike race.
All of these facts have a bearing on the book, which whizzes along at the pace of one of those two-wheeled trophy hunters. The action starts with a bang – well, a crash – that sees heating engineer Rob Hale thrown from his motorbike. When he regains consciousness in hospital, the first thing he wants to know is how is Lena, the girl he was giving a lift to. But the doctors insist he was the only one to be picked up in the ambulance. The police officers sent to interview him say the same thing and one (an old friend of Rob's father – this is where the small island, everyone-knows-everyone-else element comes into play) suggests that the recent suicide of Rob's sister Laura is behind both his crash and his talk of a missing blonde.
Injured, grieving and angry about being doubted, Rob is determined to prove he's right. He gains a mysterious ally in Rebecca Lewis, a private investigator from London who has been hired, to his surprise, to investigate Laura's death.
While Rob is the narrator, it's Rebecca who seems more likely to reappear in a future book. Tough, resourceful and jolly handy with a wrench, she's an appealing action heroine, even if her personality is only lightly sketched in. While Ewan keeps the twists coming, the situations that unfold occasionally feel rather far-fetched. But as to whether the small, rural Isle of Man makes a good setting for a thriller, the answer is aye (as Manx speakers would say), and Rob and Rebecca are engaging company during this ride-by-the-seat-of-your-pants novel.