Author: Phetra Novak
Release Date: 17 March 2018 Price: £3.58 US$5.00
Reviewed by Felices
Cover Art: The cover has the picture within a frame with the title above and the author’s name below in a clear sand coloured font. In the foreground of the picture kneels a young man, head bowed, his wrists in handcuffs, set against a background of sand dunes and mountains. Against the background we can see a man’s face with a camera held up to it. This fits with the story and gives an indication of the subject matter.
Synopsis: Sets the background accurately for what is a no-holds-barred thriller. I would perhaps, like to have seen a warning about the violence of some of the scenes within this story.
Plot: A correspondent cameraman, Ebbe, is working on a story in Riyadh when he witnesses a vicious stoning which he films. When a second young man arrives who is connected to the victim, Ebbe drags him away and they flee away from what would otherwise be certain death. They now have to escape the country.
Main Characters: Ebbe Skoog, freelance cameraman and Mattis Andersson are on assignment in Riyadh when it all kicks off. Aasim El-Batal is the young man who is rescued. Ebbe and Aasim drive off together to escape the country while Mattis has a major part to play in their rescue.
Secondary Characters: There are government figures both good and bad who contribute to the storyline.
Flow/Continuity: This story gallops along at a cracking pace and it is difficult to put down once enveloped in the plot.
Conflict & Climax: This story has so much going on. There is the fact that people are being persecuted for who they are and Aasim has a narrow escape to begin with. Throughout the story there are major struggles to overcome both within Saudi and back home in Sweden to ensure Ebbe and Aasim’s safe escape.
Writing Style: Written in the third person, the author has an easy to read style and ensures you want to read on.
Editing/Formatting: The pages are very tidy, clean margins, justified with tidily spaced paragraphs. There were no issues within the story.
Price: There is a lot of book for your money here.
Conclusion: This is such a brilliant piece of writing around a controversial topic of the repression of basic human rights and persecution of people who do not conform. Not an easy read as the author does not hold back from describing the scenes of torture.
For someone who enjoys a gripping thriller this has got to be a 10 out of 10* read.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Blurb: Early morning, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Swedish correspondent cameraman Ebbe Skoog is out getting shots for an upcoming story and stumbles upon something he isn’t supposed to see. On a building site, on the outskirts of the city, four men looking a lot like the Mabahith—the secret police—are sending a bound man to a certain death by stoning.
With the camera still rolling, Ebbe begins to retreat when a second man enters the scene and throws himself on top of the dying man, shielding him with his body, soothing with loving words. Ebbe’s reaction is immediate. Clutching his camera, he drags the screaming lover out of the rain of stones and in a storm of sand, they flee into the brutal uncertainty of the desert.
Correspondent reporter Mattis Andersson is the wild card, the rebel. He’s also Ebbe’s only hope of getting out alive with his new companion, Aasim El-Batal, and the memory card holding the footage that will make Saudi Arabia burn in the eyes of human rights activists the world over.
With their past as lovers, and their present as colleagues and best friends who would take a bullet for each other, it now falls on Mattis to protect his and Ebbe’s future. But the Swedish government wants to silence them, unwilling to jeopardize years of lucrative weapons deals for “some petty gay love affair.” It’s an impossible mission that will draw on every strength the two men possess.
Ebbe woke up gasping for air as a rain of sand came down on his face. He tried to turn onto his side, away from the wind, to bury his face in the warmth there. He wanted to sleep a few minutes longer before waking Aasim and continuing their journey, but he thought again when larger amounts of sand, chunks of it, hit his eyes and mouth, making him cough and sit up in panic. It was not until then that the sense that they were no longer alone hit him. His body tensed as he brushed his hand and arm across his face, trying to rid himself of the sand so he could open his eyes, when he was shoved forward by someone’s foot.
“Abomination to Allah!” The words were spoken in Arabic, but Ebbe understood them well enough. “On your knees and hands behind your back, filthy animal.” The man’s voice was heavily accented but the pure disgust in his voice was hard to miss.
Ebbe could hear Aasim being woken just as viciously behind him. There was a loud shout, quickly silenced by coughing and gasping for air.
Ebbe glared at the man before him, hating everything he was, for hurting an innocent man. “Aasim, be calm. You’re not alone, I’m here,” he said, moving onto his knees, hands behind his back, knowing how frightened his companion would be. He had to be strong to help Aasim through this. The man had been through enough; he deserved nothing of this. Neither of them did.
How the hell were they going to get out of this? How they had managed to find them so quickly was beyond him. He tried to collect the sand in his mouth with his saliva to spit it out. He looked up at the man standing before him and spat right next to his feet. It meant a lot more than just getting the crunching sand out of his mouth.
The man cursed him and yelled, grabbing a handful of his hair and twisting his head up in an awkward position. He saw the movement of another man moving toward them from the corner of his eyes but he didn’t stand a chance of shielding himself from the kick to his ribs. It came down so hard he was sure he heard his bones crack. The air left his body in a gasp of pain, leaving just a silent scream on his lips. Ebbe toppled over, clutching his sides, clawing the sand with his free hand, as if doing so would help him get air into his lungs.
Gasping, pushing his face and chest up, he tried in vain to inhale. When panic started to shoot through him, he forced himself to close his eyes and willed his body to relax. After a few moments, when the pain finally eased, his body shook as he finally sucked air into his aching lungs. He pushed up on one arm, trying to get back up, but the sand made it difficult for his pain-stricken body to balance.
That had been a really stupid move. Really stupid. But he couldn’t just sit there doing nothing. He had known it the minute he did it, and especially in the seconds before he realized what the punishment for his action would be. But, in retrospect, he guessed he’d been lucky, in the sense he was still alive. Pissing them off, whoever they were—because they weren’t the Mabahith, that much he knew just from looking at them—wasn’t wise. They were simply too rugged and rough to be secret police. The Mabahith had far more finesse, but it wasn’t impossible that they had sent this group of rebels simply because they couldn’t be bothered to get their hands dirty. His guess was that the men were rebels and somehow associated with ISIS.
Someone grabbed him by his hair, lifting him back up, he grit his teeth to stop himself crying out in pain. When he was back on his knees, someone bent his arms behind his back, making him clench his teeth harder against the pain in his shoulder and aching side. His chest was forced forward, pulling the bruised skin over his muscles and ribs. There was no way he could prevent the hiss leaving his lips. The idiot in front of him just smiled viciously, folding his arms across his chest, looking smug.
Behind him, Aasim spoke rapidly in Arabic. Ebbe could only understand parts of it. He was begging to be let go.
“Aasim, just calm down. Please, it will be OK. Let me handle this. Trust me.” He was surprised he managed to sound so sure and soothing, because he wasn’t convinced they would get out of this alive. It looked pretty bad.
“Let him go. You can have me. I am worth more than he is.” He tried to negotiate with the man before him, but he just stared at him, saying nothing, before turning his eyes away. They had to find a way to get in their good graces. Make them forget long enough for Ebbe to come up with something productive.
“Be quiet!” The man snapped, cutting a hand in the air to silence them. He was the only one to ever speak, which probably meant he was the only one who understood English. As soon as that man was out of earshot, Ebbe would be able to talk to Aasim without anyone understanding anything they said.
All noise disappeared; even Aasim’s begging quieted down. The only thing still audible were the hiccupping sobs that couldn’t be coming from anyone but Aasim. Ebbe still hadn’t set eyes on him since they were so abruptly woken; he didn’t know what shape the other man was in and it bothered him that the past couple of days had been hard on Aasim and this was adding to his stress. He could just blow and do something that would jeopardize them both.
“Oh, God, we’re going to die. Ebbe… Ebbe…” His name, repeated like a prayer, tore his heart. He couldn’t bear the pain and fear in Aasim’s voice, maybe because it in so many ways reflected his own. But they couldn’t both fall apart, so if Aasim was losing it, Ebbe had to keep it together.
Phetra often refers to herself as the odd man out, the dorky book nerd. She’d rather spend time with a good book or making up fantastic stories with even more fantastic characters, than live in the real world, dealing with real people.
The real world is strange, in a very non-humorous way, and people in it complicate it to the point of wearing you out. In the written-word world, whether it’s someone else’s words or her own, things might get busy, complicated, and even downright painful, but somewhere along the line, a hero’s always on the horizon. He’s probably not a prim and proper, church-going pretty-boy, since the author prefers rebellious men and women who don’t follow the protocols of society.
One of her favorite sayings is that “Only dead fish follow the stream,” and, well, she ain’t no dead fish.
Phetra lives with her family—two children, a domestic partner, and their two cats—in Gothenburg, Sweden. When reading her books, you’ll notice she always finds a way to bring her own culture into her stories.
The joy of reading and writing comes from her childhood and is something she has always loved and been passionate to share with others. Phetra loves hearing from her readers, even with ideas of what they’d like to come next.
If you are looking for her, the best place to start looking is at home in the quietest corner of the house, where she’ll be curled up with either her Kindle, reading, or her laptop, typing away.
You can contact Phetra on: