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I really enjoyed Ferraris' earlier book, Finding Nouf, and was intrigued by her characters and her depiction of the Arab world, specifically, the Saudi city of Jedda, a seen through the lens of police investigations into murders. This second outing is just as good. While the policier elements are not novel, the culture clash between the modern secular world and the traditional Muslim world is really interesting, particularly as regards to position of women. We see the main characters (the police, forensic techs, adjuncts) at home as well as at work, and I found myself understanding bits of Islamic culture that were previously quite opaque.
Kate Reading's narration is excellent.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
A detective mystery set in Saudi Arabia. Your first thought might be that there is going to be a lot of exposition about Islam and contrasting radical extremists with "good" Muslims, or disquisitions on the status of women in Islam and how much it sucks to be a Saudi woman. While these topics come up (and yes, it does kind of suck to be a Saudi woman), Zoe Ferraris never gets up on a soapbox and neither do her characters. I was skeptical at first, but the writing is plain, straightforward narrative that dips into the minds of a modest cast of characters male and female, American and Saudi, and builds a fairly decent mystery starting with a vanished American ex-pat and a Saudi "Jane Doe" found on a beach in Jeddah.
The Saudi setting is the sweetener in what would otherwise be a competent if unexceptional murder mystery. The victim turns out to have been a young Saudi woman filmmaker who was something of a muckraker, filming scenes from the seamy underbelly of Jeddah, which is sort of the Las Vegas of Saudi Arabia. Unsurprisingly, she pissed a lot of people off, so the police go from one suspect to another. The first police character is a Saudi detective, Osama Ibrahim, who is a fairly modern guy and not at all unpleasant or radical, though he does have a bit of trouble dealing with the poor American woman who is having a great deal of trouble dealing with Saudi Arabia. The other main Saudi character is Katya, a single woman working for the coroner's office. A more cliched story would try to make Osama and Katya star-crossed lovers. Instead, they strike up an awkward partnership/friendship, while trying to negotiate the difficult territory of male/female relationships in such a strict country.
It turns out that the American woman's disappeared husband and the murdered filmmaker are connected. The murderer was not a big surprise, but there were enough twists and secondary discoveries right up until the end to keep the story interesting.
A very enjoyable story that shows Saudi Arabia as a modern country, neither whitewashing its more unsavory aspects nor depicting it as a land of nothing but fundamentalist mullahs, Al Qaeda fanboys and oppressed women. If you like a decent mystery novel with an exotic (for Americans) locale and a nice mix of interesting male and female characters, this is well worth a read.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful