Monday, August 09, 2010

City of Veils by Zoë Ferraris

Title: City of Veils
Author: Zoë Ferraris
ISBN: 9780316074278
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2010
Hardcover, 400 pages
Genre: Police Procedural, #2 Hijazi & Sharqi mystery
Rating: A+
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!


  1. I don't read a lot of mystery or procedural novels, but this does sound like a good book especially with all the culture in it! Great review.

  2. I'm so excited to see that you gave this an A+ because it's second in my TBR pile. I can't wait to read it now.

  3. I just put both books on my "to read" list. Thanks.

  4. I really enjoyed Finding Nouf, but wasn't aware there was a sequel! Yea!!

  5. I can't imagine you teaching in Saudi Arabia. You would find it horribly restricting, I think, and not just in clothing issues. I wonder how long you would have been there before you blew your top about how some woman was treated, and got yourself thrown out of the country, or into jail? I think it would affect me the same way - not a country I want to visit.

  6. Amy-- Police procedure takes up very little of the book. I'm glad you liked the review!

    Kathy-- I'm looking forward to your review now!

    Man-- You're very welcome. I hope you enjoy them both!

    Britt-- Good news, eh? :)

    Barbara-- You're so on the money that the coin is squeaking. I think the religious police they have over there would throw me in jail and lose the key. For women, I think it would be almost impossible to live in that culture unless they were born to it. I was born to its total opposite.

  7. This is in my August TBR stack. So happy you loved it! great review.

  8. My reading of books with a Saudi background has been mainly a documentary type of book. Some of them dealt with women's stories and were quite distressing to read. This sounds different and intriguing.

    Thank you for visiting my blog.

  9. I was intrigued by "Finding Nouf" after hearing about it when it first came out, but still haven't read it. Now there's a second book!

    I recently read "Girls of Riyadh", a novel by Rajaa Alsanea, and was struck by how even though the female characters were from wealthy families and obtaining college educations, they still had so many restrictions put upon them.

  10. Cathy - OH, I'm really glad you liked City of Veils! I thoroughly enjoyed Finding Nouf, and I think you will, too; it's absolutely engrossing, or at least I found it so.

  11. Oh wow Now I really do need to track this down. Shoot. I'll never have time to read everything I want to read.

  12. Once again..I just love the has me intrigued and wanting to read the back of the book at least. So does it sound like there was enough research done on the culture for the book? It kinda of seems that way from your review, but thought I would ask anyway. It definitely has my interest if there is info on the culture and a good mystery/story.

    I had the chance to put on one of the outfits that woman have to wear, for the life of me I can't think of what they are called, and I didn't. I kinda regret that. At first I refused because I wasn't going to wear something so restricting for woman, even though it was in a class and would have just been for a minute. Now I wish I had because I would have had a glimpse of what the woman do go through.

  13. Diane-- Thanks!

    Mystica-- I hope you give this book a try. It was distressing but not as much as a non-fiction book would be, in my opinion.

    Valerie-- I honestly don't see how any woman not raised in the culture could submit to it well-- when so many Muslim women have trouble.

    Margot-- City of Veils was engrossing, so this bodes well for Finding Nouf.

    Beth-- We're all doomed, aren't we?

    Kris-- The author lived the life herself. I couldn't escape the feeling that she was speaking from deep, personal experience.


Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!