The Sand Men by Christopher Fowler book review

Christopher Fowler looks to Ballard in new novel The Sand Men

The Sand Men by Christopher Fowler

An exclusive resort proves to (somewhat unsurprisingly) be full of terrible secrets in the latest chiller from Christopher Fowler.

The Sand Men begins with the Brook family arriving in Dubai, where Roy has landed a lucrative job working on the nearly-completed-but-still-deeply-troubled Dream World beach complex. Daughter Cara is sent to the local English language school, and quickly befriends her fellow teens, but former journalist Lea finds herself at something of a loss in a place where the wives are expected to be idle.

As she begins to befriend the more outspoken members of the ex-pat community, she starts to learn more about the strange accidents and disappearances that have plagued the project. Are the locals really as dangerous as the security chief says? Why is Roy suddenly so completely dedicated to his work? As the death toll begins to steadily climb, Lea realises that there is something terrible going on beneath the surface of Dream World.

Fowler begins his novel with a quote from JG Ballard, and the author’s influence is heavily at play here, as the wealthy Westerners’ disaffection might cover something truly awful. The world outside the gates of the compound is violent, seedy and potentially dangerous, as the money (and appetites) pouring in from around the world clash with the local beliefs and tradition.

The divisions between those willing to tow the line and those who want to dig deeper are expertly drawn with very well-written characters, and Fowler creates a suffocating, compelling powder keg with a fuse that may have been lit long before Lea ever arrived.

Things do start to unravel a little as the buried truths are unearthed, but this is a gripping piece of work that allows its horrors to seep in slowly, creating a wonderful sense of dread.