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Reviewed by Marta Tandori for Readers' Favorite
Sarai by Lilya Myers is an intelligent murder mystery that packs the punch of an exotic, well-made Turkish coffee. Fragrant, strong and intoxicating, it mesmerizes the senses like the wafting flame of a candle from the first page onward, leaving readers spellbound and unable to put down the book. Spanning more than twenty years, the book is part history lesson on the politics and culture of Egypt and part jigsaw puzzle. Myers skillfully establishes a series of seemingly random events that are like pieces of a puzzle, with very little making sense until, ever so slowly, the jagged pieces begin to coalesce into one unified body.
The cast of characters is many with very little, if anything, in common between them. On the one hand, there is the vindictive and spiteful Aswad, who is abusive to his wives as he is to his three sons, Omar, Saib and Kafele, and who has grand designs to overthrow the government and will let nothing and no one stand in his way. On the other are Sharif and Nadia El-Sabati and Les and Aida Somers. The two couples are life-long friends and their two sons, Hashim and Dan, are forever joined by a secret spurred by a selfless act of preservation at all costs. Then there is The Mutilator, a killer who leaves a list of hapless victims on both coasts and in more than one country. The Mutilator is a killer so vile and cold-blooded that reading about his acts takes a strong stomach. And finally, there is the child, Sarai, an innocent pawn in a game of cat and mouse. The stakes are high and lives are at stake – and so the game begins.
Sarai is painstakingly crafted and the author’s attention to detail is clearly evident from start to finish. From her vivid descriptions of the sultry desert air to the congested streets of Cairo to the baleful evil in the killer’s eyes as he considers his victims, all these are powerful images, masterfully rendered, making Sarai both a feast for the intellect and the senses. Myers’ pacing is in some places somewhat slow, but as the story draws closer to the end, there are more characters introduced. With their introduction, the pace begins to pick up as the heat turns up several notches with everyone in pursuit of the killer. Sarai weaves a magical spell that cannot be broken until the last page has been read.