Far From Harm
Far From Harm is Naomi Shippen’s debut novel, out with Kinglsey Publishers in July. I’ve had the pleasure of reading an early draft of the novel, as well as it in its finished form. Both times I was captivated by the story, the setting, and the characters.
We follow Theresa, a childless woman in her late 30s as she navigates a new life in the high country of Victoria. Theresa is a quiet woman, kind and hard-working. She wants to become a novelist and is set on researching her book and undertaking writing courses. She’s working in one of the town’s more quieter coffee shops when she meets Rick Goodman. Rick Goodman is charismatic. He is handsome and seemingly very capable, he runs the café, has multiple business investments and ideas, and is always on the move. When Rick invites Theresa out for dinner, she says yes. After all, she thinks, why not? She hasn’t been on a date in a long time!
But of course, things aren’t as they seem. Rick is charming, yes, but he is also manipulative and prone to temper tantrums. He is also selfish and as the relationship between him and Theresa progresses, we learn that he has many secrets. It is these secrets that drive the story along and make you want to keep reading.
Far From Harm is a page turner, imbued with mystery. However, it’s the tiny moments as well as the larger ones that I find so compelling. Theresa is an intelligent woman, appears to know what she wants and when, but she still falls hard for Rick and when he proposes marriage to her, she is quick to say yes. I was particularly interested in their relationship, in how Theresa is manipulated by Rick, and how he convinces her of things that simply aren’t true. Themes of manipulation and emotional abuse can be fascinating to explore in fiction and Far From Harm delves into these themes with an even hand, giving the reader a good picture of what is taking place but also leaving enough space to breathe. The story never becomes too much and it moves quickly, pulling the reader along and asking the reader to consider their own relationships in their life. Do you ever really know a person?
The story is told from multiple perspectives: we hear from Theresa, we hear from a real estate agent called Marco, we hear from Rick’s daughter Chloe, and we hear from Rick himself. These shifting perspectives make for a fast pace and give you an insight into the rural community we’ve entered. Rick has been married multiple times in the past and used to be a day time television actor. One day, Rick receives a message from Anita, his ex-wife. She is going on an artist’s retreat. Anita is all glamour and attraction and her father is a well-to-do TV producer. In his typical abrasive way, Rick tells Theresa that Chloe, his teenage daughter, is moving in with them. Theresa, ever supportive, agrees, but it isn’t long before she begins to suspect something isn’t right. There has been no word from Anita in months and every time Theresa asks Rick about her, he brushes her off with an excuse that doesn’t quite add up. However, Theresa finds herself pregnant and delighted with this news, her focus shifts to getting things ready for the baby. But again, things are not as they seem. Rick is guarding a secret and Theresa is beginning to have her suspicions.
Even though Rick is unlikeable, I enjoyed his sections the most. He is constantly scheming, thinking of what he can get out of people and how he can get ahead. Naomi Shippen writes male characters very convincingly, his voice is bold and believable, he has snark and his anger bristles on the page. This is where I think the book is at its best, where we are pulled into the mind of an abuser and given an insight into why he thinks the way he does.
A thrilling, psychological domestic noir, Theresa is swept up into a family full of secrets and a life she never imagined for herself. There’s a lot to love about this novel and I highly recommend it.
Far From Harm is out on July 29, 2023.