Friday, June 21, 2019

Review of Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris (2008, Mariner)

Sixteen year old Nouf Shawari is due to get wedded in a couple of weeks when she disappears from her family’s island-based mansion along with a truck and her favourite camel. The family asks Nayir al-Sharqi, a desert guide, to search for her. Ten days later, just as he is losing hope, her body is discovered in a desert wadi. The coroner determines that she died not of dehydration or sunstroke, but by drowning, and that she was pregnant. However, a payment from the family returns a verdict of accidental death. Nouf’s brother asks his fiancé, Katya, who works in the coroner’s office, along with Nayir, to secretly investigate his sister’s death. Nayir is conservative in his views on gender, strictly observing cultural traditions, and is deferential in his manner. In contrast, Katya is more forthright, has a doctorate and wishes to continue to work when she marries, though she follows her father’s wishes and social norms and is always accompanied by a chaperone. The two form an uneasy alliance as they try to trace Nouf’s last few hours and determine who might have wanted her dead.

Finding Nouf is the first book in the Nayir Sharqi and Katya Hijazi trilogy of crime mysteries set in Saudi Arabia. Nayir works as a desert guide, and this outing starts his career as an investigator, and Katya works as a lab technician in the coroner’s office. They are paired together through their shared acquaintance with the brother of Nouf Shawari, Katya being his fiancé and Nayir an old friend. Nouf is found dead in the desert having drowned in a flash flood and the brother asks each of them to investigate her death. The sixteen year old girl was due to be married shortly after she disappeared and it soon transpires that she planned to flee her new husband in New York, where they were due to honeymoon. She was also pregnant when she died. Ferraris uses this premise to tell a compelling murder mystery tale that is firmly rooted in the culture and place of Saudi Arabia. Indeed, she creates a palpable sense of place with respect to the landscape, terrain, architecture and weather, and carefully sets the cultural context especially with respect to gender, religion, wealth and family. The contrast and awkward tension between Nayir and Katya nicely unfolds, as does the investigative elements of the plot that has plenty of intrigue and leads to a satisfying denouement. I’ve already added the second book to my list of future reads.

1 comment:

Bill Selnes said...

Rob: I equally enjoyed the book. I have no personal knowledge of Saudi Arabia but this book felt like a credible description of life in that land. I have no desire to live there.