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The Sand Men Kindle Edition
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The plot concerns a father who takes his family to a a country-e.g. Qatar or Bahrain-where he is hired to work on a massive construction project. The family lives in an enclave of similar well off professionals who service the rulers of this society. The foreigners all learn to abide by the "thought rules" that govern speech and behavior. Any individual who questions or steps outside the bounds of this society dies in an "accident" or mysteriously disappears.
The dangers of questions-let alone free speech-in a fanatically restricted society is the real topic behind the story.
I have read all of Fowler's books and am a fan of his charming Bryant and May mysteries. But, I rank this serious and absorbing book as his masterwork.
Fowler is just such an interesting writer, I will read anything he puts out. The plot alone will grip you.
But Fowler is also--perhaps primarily--a horror author, and the horrific inevitably asserts itself in his work. As with his previous novel, the exceptional Nyctophobia, Fowler treads a line of ambiguity. There might be something deeper and more far-reaching than the wealthy hands guiding the construction of the Dream World resort in Dubai. The protagonist's observations are called into question, not only by people who might have ulterior motives but also by her own self-examination, and we are offered rational and realistic explanations for events. Fowler uses all of this material to touch on many contemporary concerns, from the problematic nature of cultural imperialism to the exploitation of working classes in projects driven by globalized economics.
As with most Ballard novels, Fowler's book is a slow burn, and there are significant events that happen "off screen," which might frustrate some readers. The plotting is deliberate and the descriptions careful, all of which leads to a rewarding read in the end.