‘Layover in Dubai’ sizzles with suspense

Poor Sam Keller.

As a security officer for global pharmaceutical giant Pfluger Klaxon, he is asked to spy on his colleague, Charlie, while they’re traveling on business. During a “free-spirited” layover in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, they hit a brothel bar called the York Club. They get
separated as Charlie conducts some, ahem, business.

Suddenly, violence breaks out in the club. Charlie is found dead. And Sam finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation that is
quickly spinning out of control.

That’s how “Layover in Dubai” kicks off, and it only gets crazier from there. Baltimore author Dan Fesperman has written a stellar suspense mystery that sizzles in the hot desert sun. The novel, advertised as a thriller, is more of a whodunit painted on a Middle Eastern canvas.

Fesperman has a straightforward style that makes it easy for readers to navigate Dubai, a fast-growing, semiexotic area where cultures and customs collide in unusual ways. His main characters, far from one-dimensional, are compelling and sympathetic.

Sam is stunned by Charlie’s death, and he’s questioned by Dubai police, including veteran detective Anwar Sharaf. Sam is freed and can’t wait for his boss, Nanette Weaver, to fly into the emirate from New York City and settle things. He wants to get out of there in the worst way and get on with his life.

But things take a dark turn after a meeting with Weaver. He can’t trust her, because he suspects she may be part of a larger criminal conspiracy. He is befriended by Sharaf and, with some assistance, escapes to the detective’s modest house. Sam is now a fugitive as unfriendly police forces and Weaver try to find him. Sam is innocent, but he’s trapped in a world where the wheels of justice turn slowly and shadowy misdeeds are quickly covered up.

Sharaf is always ruminating about justice and the state of his native land. As a former pearl diver and gold smuggler, he’s witnessed Dubai grow from a poor backwater into a busting-at-the-seams metropolis. He’s worried about the emirate’s future.

“For Sharaf, even prosperity now seemed fragile, threatened by a hovering sense of doom that grew stronger every time he saw another one of those SOLD OUT! signs go up at the latest development,” writes Fesperman. “In this mood of floating anxiety, nothing seemed the same from one day to the next.”

Just as troubling for Sharaf is his daughter Laleh’s interest in Sam. During his hideout, Sam grows attracted to Laleh, a young professional who is “yearning to dress and act like an outsider.”

As the danger deepens, their friendship turns mildly romantic, but Sam doesn’t know if he can fully trust Sharaf or even her. He just wants to leave the country in one piece, bring Charlie’s killers to justice, stick a fork into Weaver, quit Pfluger Klaxon and start a new career. Not necessarily in that order.

So much for a quick and fun layover in Dubai.

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