A twisty dramatic story

Safe and Sound (HQ/HarperCollins; £7.99) by Philippa East, reviewed by April Mangion.

Safe and Sound is Philippa East’s binge-worthy second novel. Fear not the curse of living up to an exceptional and potentially award-winning debut novel, this standalone book is equally dramatic, twisty and compelling.

A decomposed body is found in a flat by housing officer Jenn, a bailiff, and a police officer, sparking a story of childhood trauma, fleeting relationships and personal suffering. East once again develops characters that leap from the page into your imagination. They feel as if they could be your friends, neighbours, and the strangers you pass by. Underpinned by credentials as a clinical psychologist, East gives believable insight into the everyday lived experience of mental illness. 

Throughout the present and past narrative style, the reader is escorted not only through a whodunnit but also a who-is-going-to-be-revealed-as-whom. There are so many potential outcomes and possible revelations that even if you get the twists, you are left feeling that you got it by luck rather than anything else. As these twists untangle and the characters emerge from their links to the past so do a multitude of sad stories. The interconnection between the characters and their stories offers consideration to how moments big or small can impact ourselves and others.

Single mother Jenn, who refuses to leave the circumstances of Sarah’s death undiscovered, embarks on an investigation of her own. Jenn’s detective work brings Sarah into characterisation as Jenn delves into her world of mental illness. Jenn’s obsession with finding the truth about Sarah’s family and life impacts her own wellbeing, uprooting her past, and connecting her to Sarah's death in a way even she struggles to understand.

The novel presents ordinary people who find themselves having to deal with unexpected adverse events, while trying to maintain some semblance of everyday life. Jenn, desperate to solve the mysteries, tries to keep life as is for the sake of her son, but the impact on her own self plays out as a battle between the two desires. There are similar battles throughout – a family tries to adapt to a new member, attempting to both accommodate and remain the same, and a young woman tries to have a standard life with a hidden past that prevents this. 

Although dramatic the novel resonates as a story that could actually occur. There is a sense that opening newsfeeds on an average day could present a similar story. Safe and Sound is an easy read, and likely to stir up sadness and empathy. It is a great book to get lost in and one that is easy to picture transferring over into a TV mini-drama.

- Reviewed by April Mangion, Trainee Counselling Psychologist at Middlesex University & New School of Counselling and Psychotherapy

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber