by Cheryl Benard ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 1, 1998
Benard's fiction debut starts out as a crackling mystery set on the Pakistani frontier, but the author's deft blend of humor and suspense lapses into a confusing tangle of subplots. Micky Malone, salesman for a prefab-housing company, gets suckered into a weeklong journey to Peshawar, Pakistan, to close a major deal, The Hotel Khyber Inter-Continental feels frighteningly foreign to novelty-averse Micky, and as his business contact starts making sinister allusions to smuggling, Micky's only comfort lies in his discovery that a female college classmate is living in the area. Fast forward, then, a couple of days, when Iqbal, a big-city detective, is dispatched to Peshawar to investigate Micky's sudden disappearance. Iqbal and Lilly, a journalist, initially focus on Mara Blake, Mickey's college friend, with whom he'd indeed had a brief fling before falling out of sight. But then other bodies start to turn up, suggesting a broader conspiracy. A dizzying cast is introduced before Lilly recognizes the cryptic scrawlings left on the crime scenes as lyrics from a feminist song. Is one of the women--maybe Fatima, a village girl forced into prostitution--the killer? As it turns out, though, Micky isn't dead at all. Ruffled by an unsolicited visit from Fatima, who was impersonating a belly-dancer, he panicked and, with Mara's help, went into hiding in a shed at a remote refugee camp. In a burst of idealistic frenzy born out of crushing boredom, he inspires a pack of Taliban warriors to build a latrine for the women--and, in the meantime, murky explanations of the various killings may or may not hold up under scrutiny, while the author's attempts to weave character sketches into a complex portrait of an Islamic border town also prove only half-successful. The problem: plot and pacing. In her best moments, though, Benard hits a sure tone of fond satire. Still, overall, an overstuffed grab-bag of suspects, victims, and bystanders that invites indifference.
Pub Date: May 1, 1998
Page Count: 208
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998
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