Safe As Houses follows a sociopath as he commits his first and subsequent lust murders. It illustrates that most violence doesn't come from strangers but from people close to home.

Most of us who are assaulted will have been attacked by a father, a husband, a boyfriend or a workmate yet we continue to fear strangers and trust those we know. Sociopathic David Frate is able to use that trust to get women to accept lifts home from him - but home becomes a customised prison to which only he has the key.

 

First published 1999.
Reprinted 2003 by the Do Not Press with a new cover and author's introduction
ISBN  1-904316-10-7    Priced  £6.99


Safe As Houses Reviews:

'A couple of years plus change ago, I covered Scottish writer Carol Anne Davis' first novel, Shrouded. It was not the sort of review that publicity departments are prone to quoting from, to put it diplomatically, although the novel certainly had its supporters, and that's all well and good. Toward the end, I did add that Davis showed a fine sense of the macabre, and wrote well enough to keep watching. So it's with genuine delight that I find that she has, in this follow up, built considerably on those strengths evident the first time out.

Safe As Houses is a tautly told psychological thriller that explores (to bring the point of reference across to an American icon) what it might be like to be married to a fledgling Ted Bundy. It's a chilling premise, because the very idea of a family man leading a double life with such radical polarities needles deep under the skin. With roving killers such as Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole, you can at least take cold comfort in surmising that one look at them should tell you something's very wrong under the hood. But when confronted with the likes of a Ted Bundy -- articulate, handsome, personable -- trying to reconcile the two halves is unsettling in the extreme.

And so it is with Davis' character of David Frates, a fellow in his late thirties who by all outward indications is leading the kind of life that's often cited as being that of an everyday hero: husband to Jeanette, doting father to three-year-old Esmond, reliable employee of an Edinburgh health food shop, and doggedly pursuing his dreams of success as a songwriter. But what do you really know about the guy who sells you your tofu? Underneath it all, David is a jumble of frenzied passions and violent impulses, scurrying around with a near-perpetual erection, oinking it up as a world-class chauvinist, and accruing huge phone-sex bills to temporarily satiate his fevers. What sets him beyond any number of similarly frustrated chaps barrelling down on their mid-life crises is the eagerness with which he indulges an overpowering need to humiliate, torture, and kill women. Which he does in the privacy of a secure hideaway in a dilapidated neighbourhood of Edinburgh where nobody has lived for years.

But the heart of the story lies with his wife Jeanette (inexplicably called Jennifer on the book's cover copy), and she really is a touchingly rendered character. Not far into her twenties, she's only just now begun to blossom as a person, charting her life and outlook by the advice of magazine articles and her assertiveness training classes. That she's ended up with a control freak who physically ignores her in favour of captive sex slaves makes doubly tragic her inherent optimism and her anxious rationalizations for her husband's "eccentricities."

In its depiction of sexual violence, with a succession of women broken and starved into complete submission, Safe As Houses manages to be graphic without being pruriently excessive. Davis depicts David's ongoing states of mind with an approach that recalls Ramsey Campbell, layering on the numerous fussy details of his daily life until its fragments grind at each other so fiercely that his disintegration isn't a question of if, but when. And when a family friend is made privy to just one of the so-called songs that he so obsessively labours over, it's a great creepy moment.

If the novel can be faulted for anything, it's that the ending sequence feels a bit too perfunctory, with David taken offstage before his inevitable discovery, never to be returned. Some may find this complete in and of itself, but I really wanted one last look at him after his dual worlds have collapsed. Still, this in no way lessens the brief but strikingly potent aftermath, with Jeanette forced to live in the shadow of notoriety thrown by her husband's deeds. And if read primarily as the story of her own growth, the emotional closure of the final scene remains undiminished, and so well- played in its subtlety and nuances that I wanted to applaud.

Carol Anne Davis is no longer a writer to watch. She's one to anticipate.'

Brian Hodge, Hellnotes Vol 4 Issue 7, 18th February 2000

'Safe As Houses from the Do-Not Press is the second novel length sojourn from Carol Anne Davis, following her magnificent debut work in Shrouded.

David is a sadist with a double life. Educated and well meaning, determined not to make the mistakes his abusive father made with him, he is devoted to his wife and infant son. Yet he has a secret, a Secret House to go to, where his women are fantasies, and the fantasies are dark. As time goes by, and more girls vanish from the streets of Edinburgh, his wife Jeanette, meek and timid, concludes that her brilliant husband is not all he seems…

Within these pages, you will find no larger-than-life Hannibal Lector figure, embodying pure evil, vile and disturbed to outrageous degrees. A large part of the genius in the work of Carol Anne Davis is that everyone, twisted or otherwise, is just a person, making mistakes, fooling themselves into the justification of evil acts. David, for all of the savagery and evil of his actions at the Secret House, wants the best for his boy, wants to support his wife, has ambitions to make the world a better place through his music. David has so many layers that reading him twists you up. He isn't a sympathetic character - nothing so simplistic. Rather, he is real in ways other writers long to achieve.

Jeanette, his wife, holds the novel together in tandem with her murderous husband. A mouse of a woman, convinced of her unworthiness next to her great, artistic husband, she takes a journey through the novel that is both liberating and joyful. As David descends into despair and depravity, she challenges her own self-subjugation, and begins a long climb upwards. With one hand, Davis shows us the misery in David's fall. With the other, she grants us the great freedom his plummet releases in Jeanette.

A warning though - the novel is emotionally exhausting, and there is no easy ending. It would be a great shame if there were, for Davis has framed two real lives in Safe As Houses, and to suddenly play melodrama or action thriller would be a painful way to end the novel. Instead, she concludes as she has proceeded throughout, with life, misery and wonder. Dark fiction doesn't come blacker than this, nor does it so effectively throw into relief the joys life gives us.'

Richard Wright, Dark Terrains web site

'Women are vanishing from the streets of Edinburgh, and only one man knows the answers. David Frate leads a seemingly normal life. Part-time health shop manager, married with a young son, perhaps not as happy as he should be with his young family and nagging mother-in-law, but on the outside, it appears as though David is relatively content.

His 'Mr Hyde', though, is a lustful sadist who has set up a secret house, to which to take his victims; the young and trusting girls he befriends during his hours at the health food shop. But in spending more and more time at his secret house, torturing his victims, and watching them suffer, he must tell more and more lies to Jeanette his wife.

Gradually she begins to put two and two together, and tracks him down, uncovering a secret more horrifying than she could ever imagine.

Safe As Houses tells a real and disturbing story. Many authors go for the safe option of making the murderer an unknown; picking up anonymous victims, but Carol Anne Davis goes right for the jugular, creating a sadistic monster that will stop at nothing to get his thrills. Building up a trust between himself and the girls, David Frate lures them to his secret pad, promising lifts home, nice meals, his trustworthy face hiding his true intentions.

Safe As Houses is a good read, fast pace and unusual ending. It comes highly recommended by the King of Scottish thrillers, Ian Rankin, and if you're a fan of this genre of novel, you should definitely pick up a copy.'

studentonline site

'It is Edinburgh, right now, and young women are going missing from the streets. Across town, David is leading what seems to be an ordinary life. He is an aspiring song writer, working in a health food shop. He has a shy, unambitious wife, Jeanette, and a son. He also has a secret. Or rather a Secret House, where he can indulge all the rage and pain he can't articulate in everyday life.

This is a dark, ambitious, involving book. Through sharp, incisive characterisation and expert plotting, David portrays us all as the sum of our experiences, especially in the vicious circles of abuse which create monsters, allow them to hide among us, pick off their victims and thrive. It's the kind of thing that couldn't happen here, everyone thinks, but of course it does. And as long as we all turn a blind eye, join the tabloid lynch mobs in search of easy scapegoats, and ignore the real causes, horrors like this will continue to happen. This is our world all right, a place in which evil is not only chillingly real but, more disturbingly, horrifyingly banal.

Explicit but not gratuitous, emotionally controlled yet pulling no punches, Davis is a rare writer. She invests this psychological thriller with a nihilistic noir sensibility, a realistic optimism and an empathy and compassion for humanity that is rarely found in a genre novel. Gripes? Well, perhaps it could do with a little superficial editing here and there and the epilogue could be slightly longer, but these are minor niggles that don't detract from the rest of the book. You have to read her, Ian Rankin implores us from the cover, and I can't argue with that. She's telling stories that entertain, excite and disturb us, peopled by characters that we instantly recognise from our own lives, containing truths we have to acknowledge. Yes he's right. You do have to read her.'

Martyn Waites, Shots Vol 2 No 6, Winter 99

'David lives with his adoring wife, Jeanette, and looks after the kid while she works in a laundrette. Three days a week he helps out in a health food shop but he sees himself as a songwriter; his subjects are dolphins and the meat industry's propaganda. He phones chat lines and drives around Edinburgh looking for girls. He'd been at peace these last three months, "doing up The Secret House; happy, almost, imagining a respectful, naked mistress at his feet".

His wife is deferential, but he finds her unattractive. He never feels like holding her and they don't have sex. Her breasts are too small and her hair is too short. But women have never acted as he would like: they never treat him with the respect he deserves and they never get it right; even when he tells them what he wants, they act out of fear. They don't enjoy his songs or laugh at his jokes. He'd like it if they knew their place and remembered his instructions. But they never act as if they know what he wants, even when he tries to be kind. "After beating her last night, he'd untied her, removed the cuffs for a while to permit full movement. He'd been gentle, said she was free to walk around. He'd come at least twice whilst using the belt, so felt satisfyingly empty. He didn't want to touch her after that. With the anger drained from his system they could begin their relationship. Surely from now on she'd be anxious to please."

The Secret House is where he hid as a child, safe from his mother's betrayals and his father's beatings, a place where he could watch the world pass by, unaware of his existence. It's where he imprisons the girls he picks up, where he uses them in a grisly atonement ritual to avenge his past, where he arrives expecting to find them dead, and where he eventually kills them.

This is a detective story without detectives, the story of a serial killer without police, car chase or final confrontation. Carol Anne Davis concentrates on David, following him from his suburban existence to The Secret House, taking us through his thought processes with the same precarious authority she uses to furnish the details of his sexual ambitions and skewed logic. He is a memorable character, made all the more realistic by the author's authority and detachment.'

Carl MacDougall, Book Of The Day feature, The Herald (formerly The Glasgow Herald)

'Safe As Houses - the Scottish author's second novel after the well received Shrouded. It's a dark psychological thriller, trailing in the bloody footsteps of a killer with a double life, whose wife slowly comes to realise she is living with a sadist. Even darker than Rendell and Minette Walters.'

The Times, (Crime Supplement '99)

'David is a sadist who lives a double life. And he knows the reason why women are vanishing from the streets of Edinburgh: His Secret House is the place where he allows his darkest imaginings to achieve hideous life - but his devoted wife Jeanette is beginning to realise the dark undercurrents she is living so close to. This is the menacing psychological territory originally patented by Patricia Highsmith, but more recently colonised by Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters. As in her remarkable Shrouded, Davis confronts her jarring material with a clear-eyed and measured authority, allowing a fascinating play of sympathies as her narrative moves towards a grisly climax. As before, her dialogue has the reality of everyday speech (rather than some literary construct), and her new book is almost as unmissable as its predecessor.'

Judith Gray, Crime Time Online (this review also appeared in the print copy of Crime Time, issue 2.6)

'Davis' latest is a sexually violent, brutal, and disturbing psychological thriller that lays bare the twisted soul of a psychopathic killer. The anger, pain, and helplessness David Frate felt as an abused child have turned into burning hatred. His darker self is a tormented sexual predator who only finds relief in killing his victims. But his "other" self has married Jeanette, a meek, colourless woman devoted to her husband. David has convinced Jeanette that his nightly forays to find new victims are spent meeting contacts in the music business. After four years of acquiescing to David's domineering personality, Jeanette meets Wanda, who convinces her to attend an assertiveness class. There Jeanette gradually realizes that her meek acceptance of David's behaviour has helped isolate her from the truth: something is horribly wrong with her husband, and she is the only one who can uncover whatever dark secrets he is hiding. A searing, potent, unsettling story reminiscent of Ruth Rendell at her darkest.'

Emily Melton, Booklist, The American Library Association Journal

'Davis really seems to have a thing for the kinds of sociopathic heroes (Shrouded, 1997) who would send most women or most everyone screaming away. Her second specimen is David Frate, who dreams of success as a songwriter while he's stocking the shelves of an Edinburgh health food store. Despite his sleek good looks, David doesn't appear to be up to much, even to his adoring wife Jeanette.

But David, who must have read The Collector at an impressionable age, has unsuspected depths. He sleeps apart from Jeanette but enjoys hard-core pornography, phone sex, and, eventually, kidnapping and torturing women, who, despite what would be a mounting wave of disappearances in your hometown, unfailingly get into his car and find themselves in his secret house slated for unspeakable terrors.

The grim round of torments is enlivened by Davis's sharp eye for (1) the unblushingly utopian nature of David's fantasies (his victims obligingly tremble, cower, and accede to his every violation while remaining immaculately groomed); (2) his sullen rage when his actual victims fail to perform like his fantasy women; and (3) the blackly comic ignorance of his dull mouse of a wife, who, not realizing she's in an unusually explicit shocker, keeps manufacturing innocent explanations for her lamb's behaviour and then being shocked even by those innocent imaginings. It's the humour, finally, that lifts the tale above the clinical study it so chillingly resembles.'

Kirkus Reviews

'Davis's second novel is an accomplished psychological chiller, one that focuses on the reasons for crime rather than simply cataloguing its excesses. David is a man in need of a reality check. He believes himself to be a hugely talented songwriter, an intellectual of the first order and indispensable member of staff at the health food store where he works. The reality is that his songs are crap, he flunked university and gets sacked from the store for petty theft. David compensates by ringing sex lines and abducting women to brutalise in his hideaway, the safe house. As his meek wife Jeanette comes out of her shell, thanks to the influence of student friend Wanda, her demands on David make him feel even more insecure and he is driven to increasingly desperate measures.

An interesting novel, if slightly awkward in places, it presents a portrait of a psychopath that is insightful, convincing and totally unglamorous. David is no Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates, no victim of some grand obsession but a sad little man who resorts to murder simply as a way of affirming his own worth. His story is a demonstration of Larkin's observation that "Your parents fuck you up" and so much of his behaviour is down to emotional traumas that were never satisfactorily resolved in childhood. The same is true of Jeanette, but to a lesser extent, and much of the book's dramatic tension arises out of the different responses they make. Recommended.'

Peter Tennant, The Third Alternative

'This is the best psychological thriller I've read. Reviewers say Carol Anne Davis is as good as Minette Walters and I agree. In the book, David doesn't mean to kill the girls, he wants to be their mentor. He wants to teach them how to show their love for him. The thing that puts this book at the top of my list is David's wife, Jeanette. She goes to keep fit classes and discovers she can have fun. Watching David come unravelled and Jeanette expand her horizons makes for a great read. I can't believe I can make such a thrilling book sound so ordinary! It is stunning, trust me.'

Bonny Brown, Stop You're Killing Me! site (Sept 99)

'This second novel from Carol Anne Davis realises her potential and then some.

Davis manages to create an all too real world of desperation, self-indulgence and the quest for sexual gratification. Her writing is like no one else's. There are no comfy passages of prose to take you calmly through to the next shocking sequence of events.

The picture that Carol Anne Davis paints is similar to those used in her previous novel Shrouded and the novella Expiry Date. This is a world of awkwardness. We are shown in detail the inner workings of the very fallible characters' minds in their quests to survive as best they can and pursue their hidden desires and wants. The prose traps the reader into the tight confined world of the characters lives.

The locations in the novel although real, play second fiddle to the compulsions and desires of the lead characters. Very readable and shockingly effective Safe As Houses is a novel of absolute terror which denies classification and pigeonholing into a genre. We can empathise in part with all the characters even the most evil, which opens the reader up for self-examination as well.

The two lead characters are a married couple David and Jeanette. She is dowdy and subservient and would do anything to please her husband. He is elitist and convinced of his self importance. His boredom leads him to seek sexual gratification by capturing women and having them as what he thinks will be willing sexual partners in a self made private prison. His first conquest leads him to commit murder and Jeanette becomes increasingly isolated. The quest for fulfilment gets stronger in David while Jeanette tries desperately to get her husband's attention. Both think they are doing a good job as parents and their toddler Esmond is caught in the middle.

The characters in Safe As Houses have similar issues to face. Each leads a fairly mundane life but wants for something better. None seems too clear on how to achieve what they want.

Gut wrenching, powerful and utterly compelling this off key novel of terror sits up there with the very best novels of mind madness and obsession.'

Andy Fairclough, Masters Of Terror site

'Not every person who falls victim to a serial criminal makes a fatal mistake. No one ever did anything to deserve that. But if you're still parking next to vans in dark parking lots, or getting just a little bit closer to give that stranger directions, you haven't been paying attention to a word I've said.

Crack the cover of Safe As Houses and you'll never make that mistake again. You'll also never feel completely secure again.

David Frate is that nightmare you hope never to meet -- the monster you fear when footfalls echo behind you. He is the sociopath who has taken those young women who all look vaguely alike, the children out playing just a little too late, the drifters shacking-up in the woods.

David Frate is a killer, and he's just getting started. Jeanette Frate is the extremely unfortunate woman who happens to be his wife. Jeanette and their son Esmond are already his living victims. But Jeanette is starting to wise-up, and she's beginning to suspect things aren't right.

She's about to find out the awful truth; things are very wrong in Edinburgh. Young women are disappearing off the streets. And the truth is going to be worse than she ever imagined. It will be worse than you imagined.

Davis is on familiar ground with Safe As Houses. She knows the psychology, behaviour, background, and methods of the serial criminal. She knows her subject and she is an expert at bringing the horrors to life on the page. This is scary stuff. What makes it that much more terrifying is seeing how easily you or anyone you know could become the prey of such a monster. If this book doesn't leave you with your heart pounding and have you double-checking the back seat of your car, you are either braver or more foolish than I am. The climax of Safe As Houses is frightening in a way that Silence Of The Lambs could never be. Getting deep inside the murderer's mind forces the reader into a perspective that is as unforgettable as it is unnerving. The twisted mess that is David Frate is a hollow, soulless hell. And anyone who crosses his path is going to be dragged, shrieking, into that hell with him.

Don't fail to notice the other scary details in Safe As Houses. The grinding poverty of the characters' everyday lives and the system that keeps them down has its own fear factor. The brutal, sadistic upbringing that produces things like David Frate is a nightmare that exists in every stratum of society. The adults who look the other way are contributing in their own little way to the carnage.

Read Safe As Houses, dark realism at its best. Memorize its lessons. Marvel at Davis' talent. And start sleeping with a light left on.'

Lisa DuMond, SF site (Aug 99)

'Indie publishers have produced the most original crime in the '90s, but sometimes originality needs defining. Though Davis is as good as the best mainstream writers, I'm not sure she's original rather than just extreme. All this undeniably powerful book really achieves is the shock effect of pushing a Ruth Rendell plot over the line from grisly to pornographic violence.'

Jeremy Jehu, ITV Teletext Bookmarks (Page 146, 28th July)

'The lost and lonely can disappear without trace and with few to care. David Frate is no fool: he knows this and he uses this. To those outside the family home he shares with his insecure wife and young son, he's a university- educated dreamer, balancing his songwriting ambitions with working in an Edinburgh health food store to bring some money into the cash-strapped house. But this is only the surface of Frate's world. Psychologically disfigured and deformed from his own childhood abuse, there is a David nobody knows, who refreshes his daily facade from a secret world of horror and deviance. As more girls go missing from the streets of Edinburgh, Frate's web of lies begins to unravel as his hunger and rage rises. Like Shrouded, the first novel from Dundee-born Carol Anne Davis, Safe As Houses carries an uncomfortable tension, with the author dragging you into a nightmarish world of violence and sexual abuse, then returning you to a blurred normality. There's no waste here. It's written without frills and its starkness is brutally engrossing.'

Jerzy Morkis, The Fife Advertiser

'Bleak and at times devastating is Carol Anne Davis's Safe As Houses, her second Edinburgh-set novel about the evils of everyday life. Women are vanishing from the streets and only one man knows the answers. David is a sadist and has a Secret House where his fantasies become reality. Slowly his wife guesses the horrible truth. Strong stuff that could make even Ruth Rendell or Minette Walters shudder. Recommended.'

Time Out

'Dundee-born Carol Anne Davis is staking her place among the elite of Scottish crime writers and Safe As Houses will see more readers sitting up and taking notice. This, her second novel after her critically-acclaimed Shrouded, is another dark tale, which concentrates on the horror which can lurk behind the seemingly normal.

David Frate is, on the surface, a respectable middle class young man, trying to support his wife, Jeanette, and child through a part-time job in an Edinburgh health food store while struggling to make a breakthrough into the world of songwriting. Handsome and well-educated, the illusion is that one day soon the good life will open up for him and his family. But the reality is altogether different. Beneath the facade is a tormented, deviant and ruthless misfit, capable of crimes beyond imagination. As his wife desperately tries to overcome her own marital insecurities, Davis takes the reader into Frate's world where secret terror and torture are his means of restoring his own perceived worth.

This is a graphic and uncompromising novel with the author hurtling you back and forth from bewildering brutality to strained and mundane family life. It is a disturbing, menacing, yet compulsive journey, with the Frates' world uneasily close to our own.'

Henry Porter, The Fife Leader

'Finally, to return you to reality and the harsh world we struggle through, a touch of necessary darkness from Carol Anne Davis's Safe As Houses (The Do-Not Press, £7.50), a gripping tale of skewered psychology from one of the most talented of the rising Scottish Mac Mafia school of crime. Not only unputdownable, this tale of women vanishing from the streets of Edinburgh is also a mighty chiller, perfect for cooling down your nights with the requisite dose of cold sweat.'

Maxim Jakubowski, The Guardian (Essential Summer Books supplement)