Author: Zoë Ferraris
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2010
Hardcover, 400 pages
Genre: Police Procedural, #2 Hijazi & Sharqi mystery
Source: Amazon Vine
First Line: The woman's body was lying on the beach.
I am always looking to broaden my armchair traveling horizons, so when I read that City of Veils was set in Saudi Arabia, my interest was certainly piqued. If I'm honest, it was also piqued for another reason.
In the mid-1970s, I was being recruited for a teaching position in Saudi Arabia. I was very interested. I love travel, I love adventure, the vacation accrual made my jaw drop, and so did the salary. I took all the information home, and I began to read. When I'd read everything, I went back to read the one paragraph that had made my blood pressure spike. That paragraph persuaded me that I didn't have the proper attitude for the job. What in the world was in that paragraph? The instructions on precisely what kind of undergarments I was allowed to wear. Once my mother no longer bought them for me no one has the right to tell me what underwear to wear!
City of Veils is written by Zoë Ferraris, who moved to Saudi Arabia shortly after the first Gulf War. She lived in a conservative Muslim community with her then-husband and his family, a group of Saudi-Palestinians who had never before met an American. But enough of the extraneous. Let's get to the book!
When the body of a woman is found on the beach in Jeddah, the police are content to dismiss the case as an unsolvable murder. If the victim is yet another housemaid killed by her employer, finding the person responsible for her death will be all but impossible. At about the same time, an American woman reports her husband-- a security contractor-- as missing.
Only Katya Hijazi, a forensic scientist working in the police department, is convinced that the murdered woman can be identified. She asks her friend Nayir for help and discovers that the victim was a young filmmaker whose controversial documentaries made her many enemies. As Katya and Nayir search for clues, they form a very unlikely alliance with the American woman whose husband has disappeared.
I am such a stickler for reading series in order! If I'd realized that this is the second book in a series, I doubt that I would've read it. I'm glad that I was blissfully ignorant, otherwise I would've missed out on one of the best books I've read all year.
City of Veils is written in such a way that you do not have to read the first book in order to understand what's going on. I'm going to get my hands on a copy of Finding Nouf simply because I fell in love with Ferraris's setting and characters.
The mystery is intriguing and well-paced. It had a coincidence or two that stretched belief a bit but not enough to lessen my enjoyment. The characters are multi-faceted and fascinating. If the plot and the characters are the jewels, the setting is the Muslim culture-- and without doubt this setting shows the jewels to perfection.
What I found so incredibly strong in this book is that the Muslim culture is shown from so many angles: the devout Muslim man, a more progressive Muslim man, an American man totally captivated by the place and the culture, a young Muslim woman who's comfortable with her place but still feeling the restrictions, and an American woman who is so completely a stranger in a strange land that it's painful.
I had to know what would happen next, so it was almost impossible to put this book down. From my personal anecdote at the beginning of this review, you may have guessed correctly that City of Veils had me talking to myself on several occasions. It's that sort of book: you live it while you read it. It was also a learning experience on so many levels. Muslim women following several paces behind their men had always made me roll my eyes and mutter. Now I know that those several steps behind are also a safety measure. If you're a woman wearing all that garb, you can't see where you're going. (I felt a bit doltish after one of Ferraris's characters explained that to me!)
If you're looking for an intriguing mystery set in a land with a fascinating culture and populated with wonderful characters, do not hesitate. Get yourself a copy of City of Veils!