Sunday, August 22, 2010

City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris

book cover

City of Veils
by Zoe Ferraris

Hardback: 400 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Co.
Released: August 2010

Author Website

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Book Flap, Slightly Modified:
Women in Saudi Arabia are expected to lead quiet lives circumscribed by Islamic law and tradition. But Katya, one of the few women in the police forensics lab, wants to become even more active in solving the cases that cross her desk.

When the body of a brutally beaten woman is found on the beach in Jeddah, the city's detectives view the case as another unsolvable murder--chillingly common in a city where the veils of conservative Islam keep women as anonymous in life as the victim is in death. If this is another housemaid killed by her employer, finding the culprit will be all but impossible.

But Katya is convinced that the victim can be identified and her killer found. She soon discovers that the dead girl was a young filmmaker named Leila, whose controversial documentaries earned her many enemies.

She asks her friend Nayir to help her with her investigation. While they follow up on what the city detectives view as a useless lead, Katya and Nayir meet an American woman whose husband has mysteriously disappeared. Is her husband somehow involved in their case? Their growing search takes them from the city's car-clogged streets to the deadly vastness of the desert beyond.

In CITY OF VEILS, award-winning author Zoë Ferraris combines a thrilling, fast-paced mystery with a rare and intimate look into women's lives in the Middle East.

About the Author:
Zoë Ferraris moved to Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War to live with her then husband and his extended family of Saudi-Palestinian Bedouins, who had never welcomed an American into their lives before. She has an MFA from Columbia University and is the author of one previous novel, Finding Nouf. She now lives in San Francisco.

City of Veils is a mystery novel set in Jeddah, a port city in Saudi Arabia. It's the second book in the series, but this story didn't "spoil" the mystery in the first novel and I could follow what was going on without having read the previous novel. However, I think I'd still recommend reading Finding Nouf first since I suspect it's also a very good read.

The author kept me guessing who-done-it until the end. I figured it all out the same time the investigators did. The world-building was excellent, bringing the setting and culture alive in my imagination. I felt like this story really was happening over there because the characters and setting felt so realistic. (Well, there was one amazing coincidence near the end. It didn't have to do with the mystery, but how it occurred could have been more completely explained.)

The pacing was a little slower in the first 62 pages because the author focused on introducing the city, the culture, and the many characters. Once the main focus switched to solving the case, the pacing and tension picked up nicely. The tension was created by wanting to figure out the case, not knowing if a missing character was in danger or the murderer, wondering if the main women characters were going to get in trouble for pushing the cultural limits, and the relationship tensions between all of the characters.

The characters were mainly Muslims of varying devotion. The rest were atheists or didn't mention their beliefs. The Muslims and the American residents were portrayed realistically, with both the good and the bad. While the author understandably slanted the story in favor of women having more freedom in Saudi Arabia, I don't think most Muslims (especially American Muslims) would be offended by the novel.

There were a few Arabic terms used in the story, but they were either defined in the text or the meaning was obvious from the context. However, there was also a glossary in the back of the book. There was some bad language. There was one very brief (married) sex scene, but it wasn't explicit. The brief description of the dead body was graphic but not overly gory. Overall, I'd highly recommend this well-written, fascinating, and exciting novel.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
The woman's body was lying on the beach. "Eve's tomb," he would later come to think of it, not the actual tomb in Jeddah that was flattened in 1928, to squash out any cults attached to her name, nor the same one that was bulldozed again in 1975, to confirm the point. This more fanciful tomb was a plain, narrow strip of beach north of Jeddah.

That afternoon, Abu-Yussuf carried his fishing gear down the gentle slope to the sand. He was a seasoned fisherman who preferred the activity for its sport rather than its practical value, but a series of layoffs at the desalination plant had forced him to take up fishing to feed his family. Sixty-two and blessed with his mother's skin, he had withstood a lifetime of exposure to the sun and looked as radiant as a man in his forties. He hit the edge of the shore, the hard-packed sand, with an expansive feeling of pleasure; there were certainly worse ways to feed a family. He looked up the beach and there she was. The woman he would later think of as Eve.

He set his tackle box on the sand and approached carefully in case she was sleeping, in case she sat up and wiped her eyes and mistook him for a djinn.

Read more of chapter one.


Ladytink_534 said...

I've never heard of a murder mystery that tackles this subject before. Interesting!

Genre Reviewer said...


Thanks for taking the time to comment. Yes, it is a unique subject & setting and was done in an interesting way. :)