place of safety


Natasha Cooper

Simon & Schuster £10.00 Rel: June 2003

Reviewed by John Escott

Trish Maguire, a barrister, is asked by a friend of her head of chambers to look into the odd behaviour of Toby Fullwell, the director of a small art gallery. The gallery houses an art collection assembled before the First World War by Jean-Pierre Gregoire, but which has only recently come to light.

The reader - but not Trish - quickly discovers that Fullwell is being blackmailed by the villainous (but, I have to say, somewhat two-dimensional) Ben Smithlock. Fullwell and a student friend successfully faked some Jean Clouet drawings when they were at Cambridge back in the 1980s, netting a large amount of money. Now Smithlock is using this information, and threats to Fullwell`s family, to persuade the gallery director to participate in a money-laundering/ fake paintings scam. Pressures on Fullwell build up and violence is never far away. Then an unidentified dead body turns up in the river Thames.

The First World War flashbacks are vividly depicted and, apart from Smithlock, the characters are both credible and interesting. The relationship between Trish and her psychologically damaged young half-brother, David, is especially well portrayed. Also, Natasha Cooper`s obvious love of her home city of London is evident throughout the book, ensuring that the setting for the story is both accurately and atmospherically drawn.

She is a respected and award-winning writer whom I normally enjoy without question, but although the plot of A Place of Safety has enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged, for some reason I find hard to define it never quite convinced me. Still, at £10 – some eight or nine pounds cheaper that the other hardbacks I`ve reviewed recently – it`s worth reading by most crime story aficionados.