Some of you might remember from my last post that one of the many books I grabbed during one of my recent library visits was Kingdom of Strangers: A Novel. Though mainly a reader of nonfiction, over the last few years I’ve been branching out and reading more fiction, especially stuff by authors from outside the United States. While the author of Kingdom of Strangers Zoe Ferraris is an American, she lived in Saudi Arabia for a period of time with her then husband and was able to witness firsthand life inside the Arabian kingdom. Drawing from the wellspring of experience, her 2012 novel begins with the discovery in the desert of 19 decapitated and dismembered female corpses. Investigators soon learn that they are bodies of Asian domestic servants, either missing or on the run from their Saudi employers. Assigned to the case is lead inspector Ibrahim Zahrani, who is assisted by forensic scientist Katya Hijazi, one of the few women employed by the department. To make matters worse, Ibrahim’s mistress has gone missing and even though he strongly suspects the serial killer’s foul play, he’s unable to tell the authorities for fear he will be arrested and tried for the capital crime of adultery. Working to solve the murders while at the same time secretly searching for his missing mistress, Ibrahim covertly enlists his police colleague Katya. Racing against time with the hopes that Ibrahim’s mistress might still be alive, not only must Katya keep Ibrahim’s predicament a secret, but she must also battle her male colleagues’ sexism and the kingdom’s oppressive mores if she is to help save the day.
Ferraris’ novel excels not just as a whodunnit, but also as a great window into the complex and somewhat hidden world known as Saudi Arabia. It’s also a novel about everyday people and the choices they must make in order to live in such a society. After being pleased with Kingdom of Strangers and later learning that it’s part of larger trilogy, I’m thinking about reading Ferraris’ City of Veils and Finding Nouf. Kingdom of Strangers also makes a great follow-up book to both John R. Bradley’s Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crises as well as Joseph Braude’s The Honored Dead: A Story of Friendship, Murder, and the Search for Truth in the Arab World. Lastly, another reason I liked Kingdom of Strangers is it counts as part of the Middle East Reading Challenge. Plus, it also counts as part of the Global Reading Challenge in addition to the Library Book Reading Challenge. (Incidentally, Kerrie, the host of the Global Reading Challenge reviewed Kingdom of Strangers on her blog back in late January.) And of course, I love it when a book counts towards more than one reading challenge.