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Children's Fiction Europe

Safe House

by (author) James Heneghan

Orca Book Publishers
Initial publish date
Sep 2006
Europe, Orphans & Foster Homes, Law & Crime
Recommended Age
9 to 12
Recommended Grade
4 to 7
Recommended Reading age
9 to 12
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2006
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2006
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


Northern Ireland. In 1999, one year after the Good Friday peace accord, sectarian violence still runs rampant in Belfast and the hatred between Protestant and Catholic runs deep. Liam O'Donnell's father is a peacemaker to the Catholic community. When twelve-year-old Liam's parents are brutally murdered in front of him, he is frozen in place. But when he sees the face of one of the attackers, he is forced to run for his life. Escaping, he finds shelter with a neighboring family.

Taken to a police safe house, Liam is betrayed and forced to run again, from the very people who are supposed to be protecting him. Can he escape from his pursuer? Is there anywhere to turn for help?

A thrilling tale of suspense set against a background that is brought brilliantly to life, Safe House is a story told from the heart.

About the author

A former fingerprint specialist with the Vancouver Police Department, James Heneghan has won numerous awards for his books for young readers, including the Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Award three times for Flood, Wish Me Luck and The Grave. James lives in North Vancouver, British
School visits, author readings, adults & children, by arrangement.


James Heneghan's profile page


  • Short-listed, Golden Oak nominee
  • Short-listed, Chocolate Lily nominee
  • Commended, OLA Best Bets
  • Short-listed, BC Book Prize - Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize nominee
  • Commended, CCBC Our Choice
  • Commended, Resource Links "The Year's Best"

Excerpt: Safe House (by (author) James Heneghan)

They had him. He fell to the floor. The big man kicked him in the ribs.
"He saw me!" said the big man. "He saw me. I know he did."
The boy scrambled backward, petrified, his back against the wall.
The big man pointed his gun, his finger tightening on the trigger.

Editorial Reviews

"Readers will be drawn by the fast action and the breathless escape adventure, but they'll also respond to the politics of war in Belfast...True to the boy's viewpoint, the betrayal and terrorism is very close, especially in the unforgettable images of what is lost."


"This stark, taut thriller starts off with a bang and does not stop racing...A poignant adventure story [that] will be relished by most teen readers."


"Teachers in particular will find this text useful."

Quill & Quire

"It will appeal to reluctant readers, especially males."


"An awesome book filled with thrills and adventure...impossible to put down."

*no details*

Canadian Literature

Librarian Reviews

Safe House

Set in Belfast, this novel explores the problems between Catholics and Protestants in this violence-ridden city. Twelve-year-old Liam Fogarty wakes to the brutal shooting of his Catholic parents. One of the killers, having removed his balaclava, realizes Liam will be able to identify him, and aims to shoot Liam, who narrowly escapes. The killer tracks him down and again attempts to get rid of him, so the police send Liam to live in a “safe house.” Unfortunately everyone seems to be connected to the crime, and when the killer shows up at the house, Liam is forced again to run. An exciting chase takes place through downtown Belfast. The tragic ending comes as a blessing for Liam.

Heneghan is the author of several other award-winning books for teens including Flood, Torn Away and Waiting For Sarah. This book was nominated for the Sheila A. Egoff BC Book Prize for Children's Literature and the Chocolate Lily Book Award.

Caution: Some vividly described violence

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. BC Books for BC Schools. 2007-2008.

Safe House

In his most recent novel, Vancouver author James Heneghan addresses terrorism in Northern Ireland, and particularly the religious conflicts between the Protestants and Catholics in Belfast. When Liam’s parents are brutally murdered for trying to end the violence in Northern Ireland, he is forced to run for his life to escape the killers whose faces he saw. Sent to a Safe House while the killers are sought, he is forced to run again when those who were to protect him betray him instead.

Heneghan is at his best in this novel as he addresses the global issues of violence and terrorism in an action packed thriller, taking place over two weeks, that will keep readers turning the pages. Hearts will be pounding and fingers will be crossed as Liam realizes that nobody can or will protect him from his parents’ killers.

This novel also works as a lesson in conflict for middle-school readers. The violence in Northern Ireland is reflective of religious conflict all over the world, and works on a global scale. The killing of Liam’s parents was done in retaliation to send a message, and Heneghan does an excellent job of illustrating the senselessness of the violence.

Interspersed with the action are flashbacks told in present tense, further fleshing out the background of these characters, and the conflict, demonstrating the impact the violence has on everyday lives.

Heneghan successfully shows that it is up to the new generation to resolve the conflict by working together and accepting each other as they grow up. The Youth circus, to which Liam and best friend Rory belong, is a mixture of both Protestants and Catholics, and his friendship with a Protestant girl is reflective of this.

While the tense shifting may occasionally cause some confusion, overall this is a suspenseful and thought provoking novel, and one which will hopefully spark awareness and discussion with its audience.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Winter 2007. Vol.30 No.1.

H Safe House

Northern Ireland, 1999: Violence is rampant in Belfast. Liam is orphaned and alone, on the run from vicious killers – the very people who are supposed to be protecting him.

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Canadian Children’s Book News. 2007.

Other titles by James Heneghan