Monday, 1 November 2010

City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris

Arabian Nights Whodunnit
review by Maryom

The body of a beaten up young woman is found washed up on the beach in Jeddah - her fingerprints removed and features destroyed, and detective Obama Ibrahim feels he has another unsolvable murder on his hands - till Katya Hijazi, one of the few women working for the police department, discovers a bluetooth device with photographs hidden in the dead woman's burqa. The victim turns out to be a maker of controversial documentaries exposing the seedier side of life in Saudi Arabia who was also working on a new project about newly discovered Quranic texts - are her activities responsible for her death? At the same time, Eric Walker, an American working in Saudi, goes missing. Could the two events be linked or is this just mere coincidence?

Although full of the twists and turns expected of a whodunnit what makes this novel stand apart is its portrayal of the Arab world from the viewpoint of its women. Zoe Ferraris lived in Saudi Arabia with her then husband and his extended family and presumably draws on her experiences there. The closeted, hidden, female world is seen from a variety of standpoints - from young Saudi women's attempts to make a life and career of their own, working round and within Saudi's restrictions, to American wives with their different methods of coping with such a foreign way of life - and forms much of the background to the plot. Through the police investigation, we see the different relationships between the murder victim and her strict, traditionalist brother, sympathetic nephew and the women whose lives she documented. Alongside this is the growing relationship between Katya and Nayir Sharqi - although he is undoubtedly attracted to her, Nayir finds Katya's modern, independent outlook at odds with his conservative religious outlook.
I found it a little difficult to get into this book at first due to the number of characters, mainly with Arabic names, introduced in the early chapters. City of Veils is the sequel to Finding Nouf and I think readers of the latter would have encountered some of these characters before. All in all an really good whodunnit novel with more character development and less blood and gore than many crime novels. I loved the insight into Saudi culture, though at times I was left wondering about how amateurs always get involved in fictional detective stories - I can't believe the police would really encourage them, would they?

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Little, Brown
Genre - Crime



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