Sam Keller, a corporate auditor for pharmaceutical giant Pfluger Klaxon, is used to business travel, but his next trip will be far from routine. In Dan Fesperman’s new thriller, Layover in Dubai, Sam’s trip turns nightmarish when Nanette Weaver, vice president of corporate security and investigations, enlists him to rein in colleague Charlie Hatcher while between flights in Dubai. Charlie’s overindulgences in booze and women have embarrassed the company and placed newly acquired assets in Dubai at risk.
When Sam and Charlie arrive in Dubai, Sam acts as chaperone during a night out, only to discover Charlie’s adventures seem less seedy than Weaver had conveyed . . . until their last night in town, that is, when Charlie drags Sam to the York Club, a bar and brothel. At the club, Charlie disappears with a prostitute into the building’s bowels, only to turn up murdered in one of the club’s offices within the hour.
When Sam falls under suspicion, detective Anwar Sharaf comes to his aid. Sharaf is assigned to investigate fellow officers purported to be working with Russian mobsters, including the one investigating Charlie’s murder, Lt. Hamad Assad. When Sharaf sees Sam is innocent and suspects Assad is connected to the crime, he follows Sam into a rabbit hole of murder, mobsters and madams of ill repute.
After the first body drops, Fesperman delivers standard thriller fare: crooked cops, double-crosses, chases, evasions and narrow escapes. However, he enhances and elevates the story with his exotic setting; clearly Fesperman’s travels in the Persian Gulf—he was a reporter during the first Gulf War—have played a huge role in shaping this novel. Dubai, seen through Sam’s eyes, is as alien as a sci-fi spaceport: a city set in an exotic desert landscape, where tourists visit its bustling malls and bundle up to ski on artificial snow. Layover in Dubai primarily succeeds because of its setting, an alien culture expertly presented; but Sam, an average Joe rather than spy or detective, whose only resources are his wits and Sharaf’s considerable help, also adds to its charm. This is a fast-paced thriller that’s perfect for adrenaline junkies looking for a satisfying read to keep them on their toes.