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Friday 29 October 2021

‘Strangers’ by Carla Banks

Published by Harper,
4 July 2011.
ISBN 978-0-00-719213-7 (PB)

Roisin meets Joe Massey when she is out jogging one morning in April. Joe is a pathologist just recently returned from Saudi Arabia. They spend an idyllic summer together, then in September Joe receives an offer of a job from Riyadh and asks Roisin to go with him as his wife.

For Roisin life in Riyadh is new and fascinating, and there is much to learn. She meets Damien O’Neill who has been in the Kingdom for many years. Having two weeks holiday before she starts her job at the University she explores the city and is confident that she and Joe will be happy here. But as they settle into their working routine she is soon aware that Joe has secrets, and that they maybe connected to a student Haroun Patel who was executed in the Kingdom in April of that year, just weeks before she met Joe.

The story is told from two points of view that of Roisin and of Damien O’Neill., and it is Joe that held my interest. Throughout the story he remains an enigmatic and interesting character and I wanted to hold him back from the path on which he was so clearly set.

The book paints a claustrophobic picture of life for women in Riyadh, controlling and stifling the expression of ideas not approved by the Kingdom. As ever in this style of government there are the informers, the people whom one believes are colleagues and in some cases friends but have a different alliance. Not a comfortable atmosphere in which to work as Roisin discovers, even though she is enjoying the actual teaching. She makes friends with two of her students. But as time passes Roisin realises that there are many underlying fractions, and soon she is unwittingly caught up in an intrigue.

A truly fascinating book, I couldn’t put it down and highly recommend it.

Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Carla Banks is a pseudonym of Danuta Reah, who has written several books under her own name. Carla grew up in a scholarly family. Her father, an Eastern European cavalry officer, came to the UK as a wartime refugee where he met and married her half-Irish mother. He told his children stories of his childhood in a country that had been destroyed by the war. Carla Banks has been an academic for most of her working life and is fascinated by the power of language. She lives in the north of England and now writes full time. 

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