Michael Connelly Explores New Territory in Spooky Audible Series ‘The Safe Man’

Horror is a perfect genre for audio drama. In horror movies and TV shows, the scariest thing is often what the audience doesn’t see, what’s implied by sound design and the hint of a presence just off-screen. Horror was a key genre for classic radio dramas, and it’s been a key genre in the revival of audio drama via podcasts. Author Michael Connelly puts his spin on the formula with the new Audible original The Safe Man, adapted from his 2012 short story.

Connelly has seen huge success with adaptations in recent years, thanks to the TV series Bosch and The Lincoln Lawyer, but The Safe Man is something different. It’s not the kind of gritty, grounded crime thriller that Connelly is known for, although it does feature a protagonist who would be at home in other Connelly works: Brian Holloway (Jack Quaid) is the son of an ace safecracker who’s now doing life in prison for his role in a botched robbery that led to two deaths.

Brian is following in his father’s footsteps, in that he’s also a safecracker, but he applies his skills legally, in a locksmith business he calls The Safe Man. It’s that capacity that brings him to the attention of renowned horror novelist Paul Robinette (Bosch star Titus Welliver), who’s just bought a creaky old house on a small island off the coast of Tampa, Florida. Paul has discovered a locked safe under a rug in the floor of the home’s library, and he hires Brian to open it.

Might there be unspeakable horrors unleashed by opening this safe, which is 100 years old and covered in strange symbols? Obviously yes, and even Paul seems to know what he could be getting into. “This is the kind of stuff I write about,” he says. “It never ends well.” Sure enough, after Brian accomplishes the arduous task of opening the seemingly impenetrable safe, both he and Paul start seeing ghosts around Paul’s house, which was built by an eccentric millionaire and occult dabbler.

Rather than just trapping Brian and Paul in the house with terrifying apparitions, Connelly and co-writer Terrill Lee Lankford have them launch an investigation, which sends The Safe Man closer to Connelly’s typical crime stories. Brian travels to the state prison to visit his father Roy (Michael Cudlitz), who had his own experience with a so-called “threshold” safe, and he also has a run-in with a local gangster who’s very insistent on getting Brian to work for him.

The two Paul-free episodes in the middle of the eight-episode series emphasize the importance of the chemistry between Quaid and Welliver as reluctant allies against the supernatural. Brian on his own feels too much like a second-tier Connelly protagonist, engaged in superfluous side quests. The Safe Man is best when it leans into its horror trappings, with the sounds of heavy doorknockers and thunderstorms, and it’s less interesting when going through the motions of a generic crime thriller.

The spookiest interlude comes when Brian and Paul visit a medium (LisaGay Hamilton) in the spiritualist enclave of Cassadega, Florida, and she explains more about the origin of the safe and the spirits it conjures. The sound design on old films of séances that Brian and Paul discover hidden in the library effectively captures the eeriness of vintage recordings.

The Safe Man offers up a great reveal that recalls the ironic twists of fate in classic EC Comics, and the story could effectively fit into an anthology like Creepshow or Tales From the Crypt. With a total running time of nearly two and a half hours, The Safe Man is a bit meandering, but its core narrative is the kind of haunting yet nasty story that continues audio drama’s best horror traditions.

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He’s the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and the former TV comedies guide for About.com. He has written about movies, TV, and pop culture for Vulture, IndieWire, CBR, Inverse, Crooked Marquee, and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.