I read No Safe Place by Richard North Patterson on a recommendation from Stephen King’s book On Writing. He spoke of Patterson’s skillful storytelling and suspense writing. I’ve had this book on my shelf for a long time, and I put off reading it because I thought it was going to be a mass produced thriller of the dime-a-dozen supermarket checkout line variety. I hadn’t planned to write a review of this for my 50 books in 2013 challenge, using the excuse that I started the book when it was still 2012. Once I got about 100 pages into the book, I realized that I was attached to some of the characters, and emotionally invested in the plot lines. Soon the plots thickened, and the characters gained depth.
The story follows a presidential candidate, Kerry Kilcannon, during the final seven days of his presidential campaign for the primary election. Patterson artfully takes readers back and forth between the present and flashbacks from the past, providing, piece by piece, context for Kerry’s present position. The flashback plots also unfold in pieces, revealing a startling depth of all of the supporting characters. We learn that Kerry is the child of an abusive father, he has a brother who also ran for president and was shot before he made it to office, and he spent his early career as a lawyer defending victims of abusive family members. Kerry devoted himself to one case i particular very early in his career. The case was a young boy and his mother, both abused by the boy’s father; a story very similar to his own childhood. His attachment to the boy in the case has some serious consequences that he would live with for the rest of his life.
The main part of this story, even more so than Kerry’s presidential campaign, is his love affair with a successful reporter. Love is the main part of most stories, isn’t it? Even The Hunger Games was just a story about a teenage girl trying to choose between two boys. Ultimately, in No Safe Place, Kerry has to face a multi-faceted identity crisis. He tries to identify himself in light of his love for the reporter, Lara Costello. Should he keep the love affair private so he can safely continue his presidential campaign, or should he make himself happy being with Lara publicly, thus risking everything he and his team had worked so hard for. Kerry also struggles to build himself a reputation and identity separate from his brother, Jamie. The press and Kerry’s opponents constantly compare his career with Jamie’s career and also his famous assassination. Kerry hates that and goes out of his way to leave his brother out of everything he says and does. Slowly, he learns to accept the role Jamie has played in his own life and how it has contributed to his success.
Kerry Kilcannon is a man I wish we could have as our president. He admittedly fights constantly to be “a decent man in a complex world.” He isn’t afraid to talk about heavy issues like race, abortion (a running theme in his story), and his sense of right and wrong. He puts himself on the front lines along with his voters, at one point having to be physically restrained from going to the scene of an inner city shooting. Seeing as the title of the book is No Safe Place, we readers do have to read through a lot of scenes which end badly. It gets heavy after a while, but the political concerns of Kerry’s campaign allow readers to focus on something other than despair. Running for president is Kerry’s way of taking the bad things that happened to him in his past, and turn them into something good. When I started the book, though, I was afraid that I was going to be reading 500 pages of presidential speeches and debates. There are some of those, but I admit that I found myself cheering Kerry on as he out-argued anyone he went up against. The political speak only got dry in a few places of the book. The writing is truly skilled and precise. Richard North Patterson did some good research to add substance to his story.
No Safe Place was the first political thriller I have ever read. It was suspenseful, intellectually thrilling, as well as emotionally engaging. This type of fiction, though, is not my cup of tea. I can handle myseteries, thrillers, and spy novels only once or twice a year. If I’m going to involve myself in those kinds of stories, I feel that real life current events provide enough drama and intrigue. There’s no need to create fictional accounts. I am glad I read this book because it widened my experience in reading fiction. This is an excellent example of quality suspense writing, and I would recommend it, with no spoilers, to someone who needed something exciting to read. To continue my education in political intrigue, however, I’m going to go turn on CNN.