25 January 2013

Review: KINGDOM OF STRANGERS, Zoe Ferraris

  • Published: Little, Brown UK 2012
  • ISBN 978-1-4087-0365-6
  • 313 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Amazon)

A secret grave is unearthed in the desert revealing the bodies of 19 women and the shocking truth that a serial killer has been operating undetected in Jeddah for more than a decade.

However, lead inspector Ibrahim Zahrani is distracted by a mystery closer to home. His mistress has suddenly disappeared, but he cannot report her missing since adultery is punishable by death. With nowhere to turn, Ibrahim brings the case to Katya, one of the few women in the police department. Drawn into both investigations, she must be increasingly careful to hide a secret of her own.

Portraying the lives of women in one of the most closed cultures in the world, award-winning author Zoƫ Ferraris weaves a tale of psychological suspense around an elusive serial killer and the sinister forces trafficking in human lives in Saudi Arabia..

My Take

According to the police in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia has never had a serial killer, but now it appears that at least one has been operating for over ten years. For the police hierarchy it is a matter of shame that such activity has gone undetected, but the clue to that is in who the victims are. It helps explain why no connections have been made. But then the murderer makes a mistake and a disappearance is reported within hours of it happening.

The situation of women in Saudia Arabia is one with which Zoe Ferraris is very familiar but it will shock most Western readers. Katya Hijazi is a scene of crime technician, although she has ambition to to become a police detective, and the restrictions on her because she is a woman are an enormous barrier that she fights constantly. She is about to marry and her husband-to-be is both horrified and in awe of the work she takes on. It doesn't stop him being complicit in her activity.

There are two main stories: the one of the 19 bodies, and the other is the disappearance of a woman who has been working for the police undercover and has become involved with Inspector Ibrahim Zahrani. Katya attempts to help Zahrani find out what has happened to his mistress.

I was probably a little less shocked than some readers will be by the restrictions imposed on women in the name of religious purity in Saudi Arabia, mainly because I have experienced some at first hand when visiting Abu Dhabi. Saudi Arabia is a much more restrictive place than the United Arab Emirates, but even so in Abu Dhabi you get a glimpse of what might be.

Zoe Ferraris translates the reader very successfully into a very non-Western culture. If you can, read this series in order. There is a lot to take in and you'll get much more out of the sequential story of Katya Hijazi and Nayir Sharqi.

My rating: 4.7

I've already reviewed:


Anonymous said...

Kerrie - One thing I like about Ferraris' work is that she doesn't shy away from the situation of women in Saudi Arabia. And yet at the same time I don't feel 'preached at' by her work either. And I'm sure your travels have given you a real perspective on this issues. Thanks for highlighting this novel.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'll read this one when my library has it available.
I found Ferraris' first book to be good, but City of Veils very hard to take, not only because of the abuse of women, but due to the horrific criminal (in)justice system, where defendants have no rights.
I liked Katya's character so I may read this one.
These books aren't entertaining diversions from the bleak news though; they are reality based with awful circumstances portrayed. One needs an escapist novel after reading these books.

Anne H said...

I've recently read all three in order, after waiting to collect them. They are wonderful as novels / crime novels, and very illuminating on the subject of women in Saudi Arabia. There's a fourth novel, one which I read many years ago and have re-read, that might interest readers of these: Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. It's also set in Jedda and the author, who also lived there for a short time, is Hilary Mantell. It's the most frightening book I've ever read.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin