First Line: Before the sun set that evening, Nayir filled his canteen, tucked a prayer rug beneath his arm, and climbed the south-facing dune near the camp.
Desert guide Nayir al-Sharqi is called upon by a prominent local family to lead a search party. Their 16-year-old daughter, Nouf, is missing-- along with a truck and Nouf's favorite camel. Ten days later, the young girl's body is found by desert travelers.
When the coroner determines that Nouf died of drowning not dehydration, her family is curiously uninterested in finding out what happened. Nayir wants to know, but in order to gain access to the world of women in one of the most rigidly gender-restricted societies in the Middle East, Nayir is horrified to learn that he's going to have to work with Miss Katya Hijazi, a lab worker in the coroner's office who also wants to discover the truth.
I read the second of Zoë Ferraris's Saudi mysteries, City of Veils, first and was completely transported. So much so that I felt the need to get my hands on this-- the first-- book. I'm glad I did. In three novels (Kingdom of Strangers is the third), Ferraris has opened the door and shed light on a landscape, a people, and a culture that are almost totally alien to Westerners. She does it with firsthand knowledge, psychological insight, tightly woven plots, and a writing style that can be downright poetic.
Finding Nouf is a wonderful introduction to life in a Muslim country-- from dealing with the climate to many of its customs. One of the things I appreciated most from reading this book is being shown how the practice of Islam differs from country to country.
The two main characters-- Katya Hijazi and Nayir al-Sharqi-- are interesting in and of themselves, but also as examples of traditional and non-traditional views. Nayir is very traditional in his beliefs, so when he first begins working with the non-traditional unmarried Katya, he spends most of his time being shocked and not knowing where to look. It's refreshing to watch him slowly-- very slowly-- begin to relax a bit around her.
It's unusual for women to work in Saudi Arabia, and there are all sorts of restrictions on what types of jobs women may have and where they're able to work. Watching Katya navigate all these rules and regulations shows us how strong she is. How determined she is to succeed. She's just the sort of person who should be the coroner, but in order for that to happen, Katya is going to have to leave the country of her birth. Any Western woman who reads this book will have an eye-opening experience. She's undoubtedly going to feel incredulous and frustrated as well, especially when Katya's life is put in contrast to the lives of the extremely wealthy women of Nouf's family. (A large parking lot paved in marble? And that's before you enter the house!)
I was blindsided by the identity of Nouf's killer, and that doesn't happen often. I loved this book, and recommend it highly. I also have good news: Ferraris is a writer who starts with a winner and just keeps improving. As much as I love Finding Nouf, City of Veils is even better. My advice? Read all three of Zoë Ferraris's excellent Saudi mysteries!
Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris
Mariner Books © 2009
Paperback, 320 pages
Amateur Sleuth, #1 Hijazi and Sharqi mystery
Source: Paperback Swap