When the bodies of nineteen women are unearthed from a secret grave out in the desert, the Jeddah police are stunned. A serial killer has been operating undetected in the city for over a decade. As serious as this is, Inspector Ibrahim is distracted by a much more personal mystery: his mistress has disappeared, but he cannot report it because adultery is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.
With nowhere to turn, Ibrahim enlists the aid of Katya Hijazi, one of the few women in the police department. Now that she's been drawn into both investigations, she must be increasingly careful for she has a secret of her own.
After reading and loving Finding Nouf and City of Veils-- the previous two books in this trilogy-- and knowing that there have been no further books from Ferraris, I've been hoarding Kingdom of Strangers like it's the last bar of gold in Fort Knox. However, after visiting her website and learning that she's working on four novels that will take her a decade to complete, I decided it was time to turn myself loose.
I was immediately whisked away to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, one of the most closed cultures in the world. Even though it had been about three years since I last visited, I had no trouble whatsoever in picking up where I left off in the lives of Katya Hijazi and Nayir Sharqi. Nayir is a very traditional Muslim male who wants to marry Katya Hijazi. Katya works in the forensics department for the Jeddah police. Although she, too, has been raised traditionally, she does not want the life of a traditional Muslim female. Through hard work and subterfuge, she's managed to find Ibrahim, a police inspector who realizes how good Katya is in these investigations, and he's willing to work with her.
The mysteries concerning both the serial killer and the disappearance of Ibrahim's mistress are well plotted and certainly worth the price of admission for those readers who are simply looking for a whodunit to solve, but there is so much more depth to this book (and the other two in the trilogy) than merely solving crimes.
The deep seam of gold running through all three books is the total immersion of the Western reader into a very alien culture. While the two crimes involve issues that Westerners are familiar with-- serial killers and human trafficking-- it's the culture that is at times almost mind-blowing, especially for Western women. From simple things like the weekends being Thursday and Friday instead of Saturday and Sunday to a few of the laws of virtue, Westerners are going to know that they're not in Kansas anymore. The author is a Westerner who lived the life, so she knows whereof she speaks. In Kingdom of Strangers, an American is brought over to help the police profile the serial killer. The American is a woman, and readers have the opportunity to see this world through her eyes (and to sympathize).
Even though I turned down a job offer to work in Saudi Arabia years ago, I believe all cultures deserve some measure of my respect, but I do have to admit that I think the "virtue police" have run amok there. (For example: A man cannot sit in a chair recently vacated by a woman because he may find the warmth of the seat arousing.) To Westerners, that sounds insane, doesn't it? But to be fair, extremism isn't just happening in Saudi Arabia.
If you're the type of reader who not only loves a good mystery to solve but also loves being immersed in the culture of another country, I cannot recommend this trilogy of books more highly. They are marvelous... and although I wish Ferraris would write faster, I shall be patient. I know her books will be worth the wait.
Kingdom of Strangers by Zoë Ferraris
Little, Brown & Company © 2012
Hardcover, 368 pages
Police Procedural, #3 Hijazi & Sharqi mystery
Source: Paperback Swap