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Spotlight on: Safe at Home by C. Dennis Moore

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Safe at Home by C. Dennis Moore C. Dennis Moore, Safe at Home

Not to put too fine a point on it, but C. Dennis Moore is one of my favorite new authors. I first came into contact with his work via his short story collection, Terrible Thrills. In that review (click the link), I highlighted his "wonderfully skewed imagination," but realized that the main reason I was drawn to his work was his voice: "Moore writes with a voice I know," I wrote, "his phrasings feel similar to my own, and this put me instantly at ease." His novella, Safe at Home -- now in a printed chapbook from ND3 Press after having previously been only available as an e-book -- is another example of that voice (and its accompanying imagination) at work.

Safe at Home is the story of Jim Bryson and Monica Ellen, a young everycouple out on their own together for the first time. They both work at the local Burger King (though often different shifts) and are going through the same things as many new couples: money troubles, insecurities, and the other aspects of sharing your home with another individual. But they are comforted by their building's security: no one without a key can get in.

Comforted, that is, until their neighboring tenants start dying. And, just to make things a little bit worse (because conflict is necessary to a good story), as far as the investigating police officer is concerned, Jim is the prime suspect -- simply because he didn't answer the door when one of his neighbors came knocking. Of course, that accusation brought things right home for me, because I've often been guilty of wanting to be left alone, and still often refuse to answer the door or the telephone unless I'm in the right mood.

Several things about Jim and Monica mirrored my own experiences in being newly married (which was also the first time I lived with someone away from home). And that's where Moore really shines: in the details. He obviously remembers what it was like to first put your trust in another human being not related to you, and that comes through clearly in Safe at Home. Meanwhile, he manages to make the day-to-day routine of trying to get enough money together to pay the rent seem interesting -- after all, there's conflict there, too.

The plot of Safe at Home is a fairly straightforward Hitchcockian "wrong man" scenario told from the accused's point of view, but my identification with Jim had me rushing through the pages to see what I -- I mean he -- was going to do to get out of this extremely unpleasant situation. Threaded through this is a subplot involving the 1980s metal band, Banded Boss (they're fictional, though Moore makes you believe otherwise). Everyone around Jim seems to be humming their one popular song (a ballad, of course). So many, in fact, that Jim thinks that he has "heard that song coming from more people now than when it came out."

The epilogue is a bit too cliche for my taste, but it works okay and the rest of Safe at Home is simply top-notch, especially the surprising, white-knuckle conclusion. It has fully developed characters, a clean familiar plot that doesn't get convoluted, knowing pop-culture references, and several welcome touches of wit among the tension (one in particular had me laughing out loud even while I feared for a character's safety). Other authors would have tried to stretch this story out to novel-length, and it may have worked to a point, but I believe Moore has made the correct decision to keep it short, tight, and fast-paced, with his economy of words doing the job just right.

C. Dennis Moore also appears in the anthology High Ferocity (also from ND3 Press) with the story "Maggie Andrews Gets the Facts."

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