An intricate suspense plot with an ambivalent romance makes for a tense emotional build-up that might not be every romance reader’s cup of tea.
An advance reading copy of this book was generously provided by Penguin Australia via NetGalley. Disclosure: Kat hosts the Heart to Heart podcast for Destiny Romance, an imprint of Penguin Australia.
I killed a fairy reading this book. If you’re a romance reader, you might be tempted to do the same. Among romance readers, Helene Young is usually considered a romantic suspense author, but this might be the book that moves her away from the subgenre.
Darcy Fletcher is rebuilding her life after ending an emotionally toxic relationship in Sydney. Banksia Cove is her childhood home, and she’s determined to make a success of her new venture, a local restaurant called Whale Song. She’s also part of the local volunteer marine rescue team, and when she’s called on to help rescue a stranger from drowning in a storm, it triggers a chain of events that puts everyone she loves in danger.
Tyrone, the man Darcy rescues, can’t remember who he is or what he was doing in a yacht in the middle of a ferocious storm. But Darcy’s best friend, local police sergeant Noah Moreton, has his suspicions, especially when a simple investigation to determine Tyrone’s real identity begins to uncover unexpected connections, including the one defining incident in Darcy and Noah’s past that has haunted their friendship.
Young’s ability to pull together elements of crime and rural fiction has grown more sophisticated with each book, and in Safe Harbour the setting is seamlessly woven into the external plot. The crime plot provides some interesting twists, and the suspense is sustained right through to the end. Some of the more over-the-top confrontations are a stark contrast to Noah’s more laid-back approach, making the former scenes seem even more unrealistic, but Young also uses the constraints of rural policing to add to the tension. Noah can’t just leave a multi-vehicle pile-up to keep Darcy safe no matter how much he wants to.
Tyrone’s background isn’t easily pigeonholed, and Darcy’s ambivalence towards him increases the romantic tension but not in good ways for a romance reader. I’m not a fan of love triangles at the best of times, and while I can understand what Young is trying to do in this story, it just doesn’t make for a good romance. Darcy’s attraction to Tyrone undermines her relationship with Noah, and when she finally acknowledges her feelings for Noah, it comes too soon after an aborted love scene with another man. This results in an emotionally complicated story, but it’s not the kind of complication I want in my romance. It doesn’t help that Darcy and Noah spend a lot of scenes apart.
The love triangle aside, I love what Young does with Tyrone’s character. It takes a long time to discover what he really wants, and there’s a darkness to his character that ratchets up the tension in subtle ways. I also love Darcy’s complicated past—after a tragic event, she goes off the rails in a big way until Noah rescues her from ‘a squat on the outskirts of Kings Cross’—which Young occasionally alludes to but doesn’t dwell on unnecessarily. I was hoping her backstory would gel more with her present-day feelings for Noah, but it falls short of properly coming together.
I also love that Safe Harbour features Aboriginal characters, the most prominent of which is Rosie, who is like a second mother to Darcy. Not only is she essential to the plot, she is part of Darcy’s backstory and her character is tied to the Aboriginal community in Banksia Cove, with characters flitting in and out of the story. It’s not for me to judge the authenticity of these characters (Young blogged about the inspiration for Rosie here), but it’s great to see them in rural fiction. I’ve long felt that Aboriginal characters are severely underrepresented in this genre—at least, where rural fiction intersects with romance—so I hope this is something that we’ll see more of.
Thanks to Rosie, this book passes the Bechdel Test. This book also makes both my vomit list and my pee list. Exactly what I like to see in romantic suspense. (I’m not even joking!)
Yay or nay?
Safe Harbour proves yet again that author Helene Young’s style continues to evolve. An intricate suspense plot is made even more compelling by the emotionally complicated situations that the main characters find themselves in. Young has always excelled in bringing rural Australia to life in her stories, and Safe Harbour is no exception. However, an ambivalent romance makes for a tense emotional build-up that might not be every romance reader’s cup of tea.
Who might enjoy it: Readers who like their rural crime fiction with dark undercurrents
Who might not enjoy it: Readers expecting a romantic suspense
This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for a list of books I’ve read so far.