A well-paced, engrossing mystery set in London, Atlanta and on the sea.
Sarah McKinney, a high-powered mediator, intercepts an attempted assassination in a London hotel. When the would-be victims invite Sarah to dinner, she accepts. The brief evening changes her life: Her hosts are Pieter Dykstra, an investigative journalist, and his doomed young lover, Lelana Sherat, who is fleeing an arranged marriage in her native country of Jordan. Dykstra gives Sarah a sphinx statue as a gift before she leaves. Shortly after returning home to Atlanta, Sarah is stunned to find that someone broke into her house and stole the sphinx. The events that follow throw Sarah straight into a case of international intrigue. Lelana appears in search of the sphinx; Dykstra also arrives, proposing that he and Sarah become partners and conduct their own investigation. Sarah agrees to join him, excited to go “beyond the limits of [her] laboriously carved-out life, the safety of isolation and neutrality.” Exall does a superb job of adding layers to the mystery, but she also takes time to develop Sarah’s character. As Sarah embarks on her potentially dangerous journey, she reveals more about her difficult past. Raised by “so-called adults with…unpredictable swings between affection and violence,” Sarah followed her half brother Shane’s example and ran away from home. At the time, she was “Sally Ann dressed in thrift store clothes,” born and raised in England and entitled to a U.S. passport because her father was American. Occasionally, the reader may wish to see more of Sarah’s past; her parents, rock ’n’ roll groupies, pique curiosity, as does her foster mother, Miss Mumford. But overall, Exall adeptly balances the two parts of Sarah’s story. The prose is especially elegant: Twin chestnuts are “glossily resting in their pulpy green coverings,” while the flowers of Sarah’s Atlanta neighborhood create “extravagant wedding chapels of pink and white blossoms.”
A suspenseful, intelligent debut mystery novel.