PUBLICATION DATE: June 5, 2012
oë Ferraris’ latest novel, Kingdom of Strangers, is a riveting story, with a fast-paced plot and a good sense of atmosphere. If you like mysteries, you’ll want this one in your beach bag. Although it’s the third in a series, prior familiarity with the others is not necessary to enjoy this one, which stands on its own perfectly well.
The story begins with a bang: a secret grave is unearthed in the Saudi Arabian desert revealing the mutilated bodies of nineteen women. Investigators are puzzled that the women’s hands have been cut off. It turns out that a serial killer eventually dubbed “the Angel Killer” has been on the loose in Jeddah for more than ten years. Newly-arrived lead inspector Ibrahim Zahrani turns to Katya Hijazi for help. Katya is a female forensic scientist, eager to spend more time in the field instead of being stuck in a lab. In addition to investigating the serial killer case, Katya is drawn into helping the inspector with a more personal problem. His mistress, Sabria, has disappeared. However, he cannot report her missing, since adultery is punishable by death. The story follows Katya as she gets deeper into both of the investigations.
This is a fascinating and suspenseful story exploring the dark underbelly of Saudi Arabian culture. Ferraris is a master at building tension in a controlled way. This book is not like some popular police procedurals, with very short chapters and almost too many cliffhangers to count — so if that’s your favorite genre, you may get impatient with Kingdom of Strangers, where the plot is developed more slowly and the tension builds gradually. The writing pulled me in and I enjoyed trying to solve the mysteries right along with Katya, a likeable character who has become more central since the beginning of the series.
In the scenes set in the homicide unit and in the field, we see how Katya is viewed and even oppressed by others, despite being good at what she does. The author is skillful at weaving these social issues into the larger storyline. The story includes interesting insights into the culture and atmosphere of Saudi Arabia, and the author succeeds in being educational without condescension. Because of the restrictions imposed in Saudi Arabian society, the police investigations cannot proceed as they would elsewhere, and this creates an additional source of tension as the story progresses.
My only concerns with the plot are the large cast of characters and a few minor instances that seem a bit coincidental. Still, this is a real page-turner from an author with major talent. In particular, I enjoyed the storyline involving Inspector Zahrani. He is a complex character and the author does a good job of exploring his motivations and emotions.
Readers of the first two books in the series may be disappointed that there isn’t much focus on the relationship between Katya and her fiancé, Nayir, in this book. Still, there’s plenty of engrossing story to keep us interested.
If you are bothered by gruesome details, this might not be your best choice, but if you like a good, literary mystery, then Kingdom of Strangers comes highly recommended.