Playing It Safe: An Electra McDonnell Novel (Electra McDonnell Series, 3)

Image of Playing It Safe: An Electra McDonnell Novel (Electra McDonnell Series, 3)
Release Date: 
May 9, 2023
Minotaur Books
Reviewed by: 

“Weaver has a knack for tying up her readers with thin threads of clues—just enough to let the reader unwind and believe they know what the outcome is, only to be tied up again in a new chapter.”

In Ashley Weaver’s third book in her Electra McDonnell series, Playing It Safe, we are once again introduced to Electra McDonnell, ex-safecracker and locksmith turned World War II spy.

Electra (Ellie) is contacted by Major Gabriel Ramsey, her superior in the spy business. She is to go to Sunderland, northeast of London, for a new assignment.

Ellie is given vague instructions to meet people in the area where she will be located; she is given a new identity, Elizabeth Donaldson; and told more will be forthcoming.

It doesn’t take long for Weaver to begin to introduce the readers to the characters who will play an important role in the mysterious task ahead. On the train she meets Captain Rafe Beaumont, an RAF officer stationed in Sunderland.

Upon her arrival, as she makes her way toward her rooming house, at a busy intersection, Liz feels a nudge on her back, begins to lose her balance, almost falling in the path of a lorry, when a young man grabs her and saves her from a certain tragedy.

She checks into the rooming house run by Mrs. James. This will be her location for the duration of her assignment, and she quickly meets Samira Maddox (Sami), an attractive young woman who lives in the house next door.

As she is making Sami’s acquaintance, they hear a loud crash, and the women rush toward the commotion to find a man dead in the street. Liz quickly realizes that this is the man who, several minutes earlier, had saved her life. She is further surprised to learn that the man was a friend of Sami, Hal Jenkins. This is a coincidence that does not sit well with Liz. Several people have gathered at the scene, and Sami introduces Liz to others who also indicate they knew Hal. Another coincidence?

Her curiosity aroused, Liz takes it upon herself to learn more about Hal Jenkins, and that evening she utilizes her safecracking and lockpicking skills to enter the room he occupied in a rooming house not far from her. As she searches the room, she finds a desk blotter with curious words and phrases, and she folds it in her pocket; then she realizes she is not alone. She is grabbed by a shadowy figure. Major Ramsey. He does not share information with her other than to say he will get back to her. A vague comment indeed and the coincidences begin to grow.

The following day Liz encounters Sami who introduces her to Laila, Sami’s sister. Sami invites Liz to join her and Laila and their friends that evening at the local pub to honor Hal. This fits in with her orders, and she accepts.

In the meantime, Major Ramsey has not made further contact with Liz, and Liz decides to send the desk blotter that she found at Hal’s room, to her friend, Felix, a forger of the best order. She is sure that Felix can decipher the odd phrases.

Enter Captain Beaumont again. Another coincidence? she wonders. They arrange to go to dinner a few days later. That evening, Sami and Liz go to the pub where Liz joins Nessa Simpson, Carlotta Hogan, Alfred Little, and Ronnie Potter.

Through these introductions she attempts to gather more information about Hal Jenkins. Although she still does not know the details of her assignment, she is following direction and attempting to gather what information she can.

As she approaches the bar to purchase a round for her newfound friends, a handsome man approaches her—Major Ramsey. Again, no details are shared, just that he will see her in the morning. The coincidences are beginning to wash over her.

Weaver has, by this time, laid the groundwork for a good, mysterious thriller. She has introduced her main characters, a murder, and a group of suspects, but left the door open for more events and coincidences.

And it isn’t long before those events swarm in: the discovery of an influx of German spies to Sunderland, a counterfeiting operation for identity cards, and the theft of the plate and cards make life interesting and dangerous for both Liz and the major.

The death of another member of the group puts Liz and the major on edge, as they try to determine the victim’s relationship with the spies, if there is one. Too much of a coincidence again.

An evening with Captain Beaumont results in Liz being drugged and passing out, while she is following one of the suspects. She is convinced that the suspect is the one who drugged her, but she wakes up at Major Ramsey’s cabin, not knowing how she got there or what happened to Captain Beaumont.

Weaver has a knack for tying up her readers with thin threads of clues—just enough to let the reader unwind and believe they know what the outcome is, only to be tied up again in a new chapter.

In addition to the well-paced story of World War II spies and intrigue, there is a side story relating to Ellie’s personal history and the deaths of her parents, in particular the death of her father at the hands of her mother, a story that has not been fully explained to her.

And every female reader will fall in love with Major Ramsey and anticipate the growing relationship between the two major characters and how it will be resolved. One can only hope the next story in the series will take that relationship to the next level.

Playing It Safe is a story that can be read in one weekend, assuming the reader takes the time for meals.