The name may sound a little twee but Peter May’s latest thriller is anything but. Focused on the breakdown of a marriage held together by a desperate quest to turn a dream into a reality, the novel is a slow burner, but the plot doesn’t fizzle out, leaving readers haunted by the exquisitely evil plot.
Niamh and Ruairidh Macfarlane are a husband and wife team from the Scottish island of Lewis, who weave and market Ranish Tweed, a unique variety of Harris cloth which, thanks to the interests of a malevolent fashion designer, quickly moves from country chic to high fashion. As the firm’s star soars the couple’s relationship sours, with Niamh left recoiling from an anonymous email informing her of her husband’s infidelity. When she finally has the strength to confront him whilst on a work trip to Paris, he leaves, only to be killed by a car bomb alongside the woman Niamh believes he was having an affair with. Originally suspected to be terrorism, the police soon see that the bomb was meant to kill the car’s occupants only, and suspicion switches to Niamh, leaving her with the twin burdens of uncovering the true depth of her husband’s betrayal and absolving herself of his murder.
The murder takes place in a city that has only recently encountered much real life tragedy, and May plays on this tense atmosphere, using his police detectives to convey the public fear as the reader is left briefly uncertain as to the novel’s direction. As terrorism becomes less likely, the reader and detective Sylvie Braque are left desperately chasing after Ruairidh’s memory in search of the truth about what happened.
Switching between first and third person, past and present tense, May’s novel charts the lies, deception and deceit that are, in his universe, inherent in marriage. His descriptions evoke a sensory overload as he bombards the reader with the sights, sounds and smells of his beautifully crafted settings; from the bland, banal Paris with its wealth and its intricacies to the Highlands of Scotland, where the constantly tempestuous weather creates a sombre mood, the settings are as intricately crafted as the characters.
Short, blunt sentences drive the narrative forward at a breath-taking pace, as May skilfully conveys a vast amount of information quickly and efficiently. The characters are so vividly portrayed that, at times, they almost become too heavy handed, like the pantomime villain-esq fashion designer Lee Blunt, but May’s crisp dialogue, punctuated by alternating first/ third person chapters keep the reader’s interest throughout whilst the plot sweeps along succinctly to a dramatic conclusion.
At its heart, I’ll Keep You Safe is a classic thriller that delves deep into the murky tangle of emotions that often hide beneath seemingly benign personalities.