City of Veils by Zoë Ferraris

9781400188376Fiction — print. Little, Brown and Company, 2010. 395 pgs. Library copy.

Miriam Walker returns from the States to Saudi Arabia expecting to be meet by her husband, Eric. She’s not happy about returning to the Islamic country that requires her to hid behind a burqa or remain sequestered in her apartment. Her husband’s disappearance occurs at the same time . The brutally murdered and mutilated body of a young woman dubbed Eve is discovered on the grimy sands of a Jeddah beach.

Investigating police officer Osama Ibrahim, forensic scientist Katya Hijazi and her friend, the strictly devout Bedouin guide Nayir Sharqi, join forces to search out the truth in the scorching city streets and the vast, lethal emptiness of the desert beyond.

This is actually the second book in Ferraris’ series, which I did not realize until after I started reading the novel. There are constant references to a crime previously solved by Nayir and Katya and there is an expectation that readers’ understand their complicated relationship. It’s not that the book doesn’t stand apart from the first book; it just don’t stand apart as well as I would have liked.

My public library shelves Ferraris’ novel in the mystery section, but I selected this novel based on its location — Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Knowing it’s supposed to be a mystery raised my expectations, and it wasn’t nearly as fast paced or thrilling as I would normally associate with a crime thriller.

That said, the book does maintain a fine balance between being condescending towards Islamic culture and religion in its presentation of the difficulties — particularly for women — of living in countries like Saudi Arabia. A variety of men are presented in this novel, some more paternalistic and “traditional” than others. Reading about Katya trying to carve out a space for herself in the forensic lab as a professional was of interest to me. For this reason I am glad I read this book even if I didn’t love it.

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