Safe (Veterans of Callenburg #1) by Taylor McNiff
Wow. This read. It wrecked me and put me back together again.
So much feeling.
It’s excruciatingly tragic, and doesn’t hold back on – quite honestly – sickening details. But there’s also hope and love and a happy ending.
Synopsis: Oliver – Olly – is a victim of sex trafficking, while Huxley Scott – Huck – is a police officer. The two meet during Huck’s patrol one night, and afterwards Huck can’t get Olly off his mind. It’s apparent to Huck that Olly’s trapped in a dangerous situation, and Huck wants to help. But Olly doesn’t trust easily and is reluctant to reveal the truth to Huck. Meanwhile, Olly’s circumstances are growing more dire and Huck fears that Olly’s running out of time.
What’s so captivating, and simultaneously horrible, is that Olly is so deeply immersed in the nightmare of his life that he’s come to accept he’ll never find a way out. The abuse and rapes are his normal, and his captor and pimp Tyler is someone he feels a twisted kind of love for. Or rather, he used to before Tyler turned him into a commodity, and now he vacillates between fear and misplaced gratitude. It’s very black and white in the eyes of the reader, but in Olly’s mind everything is shades of grey.
When Huck and Olly meet, Olly has more or less given up. He doesn’t expect to live for very long and doesn’t have the strength or will to fight it. Also, after seeing only the absolute worst of humankind for years, he can’t trust Huck and his intent. Huck has to work hard and patiently to gain Olly’s trust.
The first part of the story was honestly both heart-wrenching and nauseating. Because McNiff doesn’t shy away from describing the abuse Olly is put through – in detail. And then, when Olly finally can get away physically from his captors, the trauma of years of inhuman treatment comes back with a vengeance. Olly’s been numb, but once in a safe place he’s still forced to re-live his traumatic past if he ever wants to be able to get past them.
And Huck. He’s painfully attracted to Olly. But for obvious reasons he fights the attraction to not scare Olly, or worse, make Olly believe he owes Huck anything for helping him escape.
Olly too is drawn to Huck, but they keep misunderstanding each other. And that’s actually one of my pet peeves. MCs living in their heads too much, not talking to each other and choosing instead to misinterpret the other’s intent. (Fabricated drama anyone?) And while I thought this was annoying, it didn’t bother me so much that it lowered my overall opinion of the read.
Another aspect of the story, as if Olly’s struggles weren’t enough, is the fact that Huck is a recovering alcoholic. And he has a hard time with it. I can’t say I thought that was the most interesting part of the read, but I see the importance of it in relation to the overall story. Namely that even if Huck was Olly’s “saviour”, he wasn’t perfect by any means, but struggling with his own demons. Meaning he couldn’t be there for Olly 24-7.
The one thing that was less than brilliantly portrayed is, in my opinion, the police investigation of the sex trafficking ring. I fully understand that there wasn’t really space to describe such an operation fully in this story. After all, it’s not a police procedural, the focus is on Olly’s and Huck’s relationship and Olly’s (and Huck’s) healing. But still, the parts that were included didn’t appear credible, and left me with a sense that McNiff just hadn’t done enough research on the matter.
All things considered, the depth of emotion in this story is extraordinary. The darkness and desolation that’s eventually replaced by joy and hope. It’s nothing but enthralling.
5 stars. Highly recommend!