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by Hilary Mantel

Pub Date: July 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8050-5203-8
Publisher: Henry Holt

 A chilling portrait of an authoritarian society as a young Englishwoman moves with her husband into a Saudi Arabian neighborhood and finds murder lurking behind the shuttered windows and closed doors. Mantel's third novel, published in 1988 in England and now being issued here (along with her sixth--see above--also previously unseen here), splendidly evokes the constrained life of the expats in a feudal Islamic society where boredom is endemic, rumors of rebellion commonplace, and the police feared. Andrew, a civil engineer, and Frances met and married in Africa but come to Jeddah- -a place of blinding heat, ugly buildings, and underlying menace- -when Andrew accepts a job with an international construction company. The company owns the apartment the Shores move into; it happens to be in an Arab neighborhood, and Frances is largely isolated. She begins a diary recording her impressions; makes friends with Yasmin and Samira, two young married Islamic women on the block; and wonders about the supposedly empty apartment above hers and Andrew's, from which she's certain that she's heard sobbing. Yasmin and Samira, western-educated but strong defenders of Islam, tell her the apartment belongs to a powerful Saudi man who's installed his mistress there. As the months pass, Frances tries to adjust to a society where women are treated as inferiors and the slightest infraction of Islamic law can lead to imprisonment, or worse. She sees men with rifles in the streets outside and is sure Yasmin and Samira are lying to her--suspicions that prove horrifyingly right when a British guest of theirs is murdered, Yasmin's husband is shot, and Frances's neighbors turn out to have bloody secrets of their own. At once a riveting thriller and a subtle political tale, set in a place as harsh and unforgiving as the desert.