Many of us know of someone living the mythical ‘ex-pat lifestyle’ – an exotic overseas stint in one of the world’s developing economies, where there’s plenty of money to be made and dream fulfilment is beyond every horizon.
It seems such a glamorous notion and far from the mundane reality of the everyday grind – so new novel In the Kingdom of Men called like a siren, promising to be the next best thing to being there.
This ex-pat story takes us back to the beginning of the oil boom in 1960s Saudi Arabia. Grand-daughter of a strict Methodist minister and raised in a two-room shack, dirt-poor Gin West finds herself thrust into the heat, privilege and corruption of a foreign world.
Saudi Arabia is a country on the cusp of enormous change. Newly married and oh-so naive, she becomes a company wife, in a company house, in a company compound and is warned not to venture beyond the heavily guarded walls. But spirited Gin tires of cocktails and swimming and soon realises that the glamour and wealth inside the gates are bought with the corruption beyond them.
When a young Bedouin woman is found dead in the bay, she begins to ask dangerous questions. Her husband Mason is embroiled in some shady business in the Arabian American Oil company, but whose side is he actually on? As Gin’s claustrophobic world closes in around her, the one person she trusts is nowhere to be found.
In the Kingdom of Men poses themes of humanity and vice against an intriguing story that builds to a menacing climax. While Gin’s quest is absorbing, the exotic setting of Saudi Arabia was the star of the show. Kim Barnes brings the danger and beauty of the desert alive with images of locust swarms, sand storms, dashing Bedouins and always, the suffocating fug of heat hanging heavily over everything.
In the Kingdom of Men is not the cheery ‘ex-pat’ travelogue I was expecting, but instead is a richly crafted, cautionary tale of Americans out of their depth and one woman’s quest for the truth, at any cost.
In the Kingdom of Men by
Publisher: Random House