“They needed a woman to handle some of the more sensitive matters for certain female victims.” She motioned gracefully down to the body but didn’t let her eyes follow the gesture. “They told me it was for the victims whose families requested it. The people who didn’t want a strange man touching their beloved daughters or wives. But the truth is that I get to handle the cases that the male examiners don’t want to bother with. Housemaids, mostly.” She looked down at the corpse now. “I’m not saying she’s a housemaid. But on the important cases there’s always a male examiner standing by. They don’t trust us to do our jobs, and that’s the problem. One little mistake on my part justifies all their biases against me. The good news is that the pressure has turned me into the best examiner in the building.” – from the ARC of City of Veils –
In the sequel to Finding Nouf (which I reviewed here), Zoe Ferraris once again gives readers a glimpse into Saudi Arabian society where women’s rights and freedoms are challenged, even when it comes to solving crimes against them. The novel opens with the partially clothed body of a woman on a beach. She has been brutally murdered and her identity is difficult to ascertain. Dubbed “Eve” by the police, her murder investigation falls on the desk of Detective Osama Ibrahim – a man who bucks the conservative attitudes toward woman in his job, but has difficulty accepting his wife’s modern views. Katya, one of the few female investigators in the coroner’s office, quickly becomes involved in the case. Her friendship with a desert guide named Nayir involves him in the murder investigation as well. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent than any one of a number of people might have reason to murder the victim: a Koranic scholar with unpopular theories, a missing American whose wife is left to fend for herself in the paternalistic Saudi society, the brother of the victim who harbors barely contained anger towards his sister’s activities as a filmmaker, to name a few.
Fast paced, gritty, and riveting, City of Veils is a thrilling ride. Ferraris has brought back familiar characters from her first novel and continues to develop them here. She writes in multiple viewpoints – a technique which allows the reader to understand each character’s motivations, strengths and weaknesses.
City of Veils revisits themes from Finding Nouf – women’s rights, the struggle between the modern and traditional cultures of Saudi Arabia, and male/female relationships in an evolving society where traditionally men wield all the power. Ferraris easily balances the mystery aspects of her book with the deeper issues of Arab culture.
I really loved this novel – in fact, I found it hard to stop reading once I got into the final 100 pages. Ferraris’s writing has grown since publication of Finding Nouf which results in a novel that fully captures a veiled society while dazzling the reader with a mystery that has many twists and turns before the killer is finally revealed. Readers who love a good mystery and want to learn more about Saudi culture will not want to miss City of Veils.
*FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review on my blog.
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