The Blue Hour
Douglas Kennedy
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The Blue Hour
Douglas Kennedy
Atria Books
368 pages
February 2016
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Blue Hour.

Though it hasn’t the oppressive vastness of Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky, Kennedy’s Morocco-based thriller has all the mystery and menace of modern-day North Africa for an American woman in trouble in an unfamiliar landscape. Life is idyllic when artist Paul Leuen and his wife of three years, Robin, arrive for a month’s stay at remote Essaouira, a city Paul last visited as a student thirty years ago. Robin hopes for a child with her charismatic but financially inconsistent artist husband, the marriage renewing her belief in romance and passion, even at forty. After grueling hours of travel sans air conditioning, their sojourn begins at a small hotel overlooking the city on one side and the blue haze of the Atlantic on the other. Paul is inspired to begin a new set of drawings, while Robin engages a tutor to refine her facility with French.

The days pass easily, Paul unusually productive, Robin luxuriating in this time away with her husband in a storied land. The burning sun is quieted by the dark blanket of night, morning announced with the call to prayer. It is only by happenstance one afternoon--before meeting Paul at a café where he sketches every day--that Robin receives devastating information, a ragged tear in the sensuous fabric of marital contentment. A betrayal threatens everything she holds precious, ripping the blindfold from the eyes of a woman rapturously in love with a charming man. An American out of sync with the foreign land where she now faces an uncertain future, suspicious of local police who demand her passport and an ugly truth she has only begun to fathom, Robin cannot escape her nightmare. Every new discovery reveals more treachery around her, an unfamiliar language she cannot understand, a landscape made of twisting alleys and lurking opportunists, once-friendly faces turned menacing.

Kennedy constructs a masterful scenario where a magical land becomes a walled prison. Doors slam in Robin’s face when she seeks escape, the desert leeching energy and wits with a hot fist. Her dream is further destroyed at each stop she makes under the burning Sahara sky as Robin plunging into an impulsive search for answers from a husband who has left their hotel with no explanation of his intentions. Her only hope is to find Paul in a maelstrom of people and events. False promises falg like dominoes one after another, her mind as parched as the landscape as she stumbles forward, oblivious to consequences.

Robin attacks her problem with the predictable determination of an American in a country where mistakes in judgment can quickly precipitate danger, death, and violence, applying logic that has no relevance in an ancient country. Circumstances quickly obliterate the careless naiveté of her assured arrival with Paul in this exotic place. Only the kindness of strangers rescues Robin from certain death in the Sahara after one more foolish decision, only the greed and avarice of those she has met along the way eventually offering an avenue of escape.

While there may be a few issues of credibility as the intricate plot unfolds (but really, who cares?), the drama builds relentlessly to a near-unbearable pitch of danger. The fearful and impulsive decisions of a woman frantic to find her husband accelerate with each terrifying encounter, exotic beauty turned to chaos, relief found only in intense moments of compassion and generosity. For me, this quiet sleeper became an otherworldly, engrossing journey. Once begun, I simply could not put it down.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2016

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