The Bystander by Katherine Burlake is an international thriller that provides a rich, in-depth perspective of the culture and history of Saudi Arabia. The main character, Amy Prowers, travels to Saudi Arabia at the request of her friend, a Saudi princess, to validate a major archaeological finding at the ancient city of Ubar. However, Amy is swept into political intrigue when she witnesses a bombing while staying at the Royal Doha Hotel in Qatar. The danger heightens when she and her comrades are kidnapped near the excavation site. After she activates the GPS on her watch so she can be tracked, the pick-up conveying Amy and her colleagues crashes in a sand dune. A mysterious man rescues them and leaves them in a nearby town. The subsequent events at the archaeological site and other bombings in the region culminate in a political conspiracy for one Saudi prince to rise in power.
Author Katherine Burlake masterfully weaves the culture and historical perspective of Saudi Arabia into an exciting international thriller. The story is told from the perspective of several characters, and their stories thread together to help the reader understand the political intrigue behind the scenes. The suspense works best when we are grounded in the point of view of Amy Powers and can sense the danger she faces. However, the tension and suspense fades toward the end because motivations behind the political intrigue are sometimes revealed too quickly.
I recommend this book to readers who’d like to gain more insight into the culture of Saudi Arabia and how its history might impact the maneuverings of the present-day Royal Family. A thought-provoking read.