Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Review of City of Veils by Zoë Ferraris (2009, Abacus)

Shortly after Miriam, an American woman married to a contractor working in Saudi Arabia, arrives back in the country after a trip home her husband disappears. Cautious of the authorities given its repressive regime, particularly towards women, she’s scared and out of her depth. On a local beach the disfigured body of a young woman is found. Detective Osama Ibrahim is assigned to investigate, aided by forensic scientist, Katya Hijazi, one of the few women working in the police force. After a stuttering start, the woman is identified and eventually connected to Miriam’s husband. Aided by her Bedouin friend, Nayir, who could end up being much more, Katya tries to make a positive contribution to the case. But it’s not easy to be a female investigator in Saudi, and just as difficult to start a relationship of equals with a devout man. Miriam’s life, however, depends on Katya making progress on both fronts.

City of Veils is the second book in the Katya and Nayir trilogy set in Saudi Arabia. As with the first book, there is a very strong sense of place and politics, and continued good character development. The plot is intriguing and engaging, with plenty of twists and turns, though the desert denouement felt a little over-dramatic and switched pace and structure. While the story provides a fascinating social commentary on Saudi society, at times there was a bit too much tell rather than show, with the narrative explaining a situation rather than just detailing it. The result was a kind of education through fiction that felt a little too prescriptive even if it was informative. Other than that, I thought it was a well plotted, entertaining read with two lead characters I’m happy to spend time with.

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