cover image When the Apricots Bloom

When the Apricots Bloom

Gina Wilkinson. Kensington, $16.99 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2935-4

In Wilkinson’s vivid debut, set in early 2000s Baghdad, secrets and lies mingle as easily as the scent of apricot blossoms and nargilah smoke. Huda, a secretary to the Australian deputy ambassador to Iraq, is forced by the secret police to become an informant on Ally Wilson, the ambassador’s wife, or risk her son’s forced recruitment into the deadly fedayeen, the militia led by Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday. Meanwhile, Ally, whose presence in Iraq is motivated by a search for answers about her long-dead American mother, strikes up an acquaintance with Rania, Huda’s estranged childhood friend. When Rania’s daughter draws the attention of Uday’s cronies, Rania and Huda form a reluctant alliance and later rope in Ally, whose own safety is imperiled due to her being part American, to help protect their families. While the denouement is somewhat abrupt, Wilkinson weaves in the miasma of fear and distrust that characterized Hussein’s regime with convincing detail (“Two can keep a secret only when one of them is dead,” a character remarks sardonically). Scenes from Iraqi life—paying for work with food items, or snacking on “counterfeit ‘Keet Katts’ ”—offer a glimpse into a country crippled by economic sanctions. The richly drawn characters and high-stakes plot are enough to compensate for the minor shortcomings. [em]Agent: Heather Jackson, Heather Jackson Literary. (Feb.) [/em]