City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris is a unique and insightful look inside Saudi Arabia by an author who actually lived there. This is her second novel set in this country. I have not read the first one, Finding Nouf, but I have it high on my list of next books to read. As usual, my wife has made another excellent recommendation of a book for me to read that I probably would have missed.
This is a real thriller with plenty of action, plot twists, and good characters. It begins with a young woman's body found on the beach in Jeddah. One of the next sequences is the return of Miriam Walker to Saudi Arabia from some time off in the U.S. Her husband, also American, works for a security company and disappears soon after she returns. The story turns to the search for the killer of the girl found on the beach, and soon begins linking supposedly unrelated individuals to the search for the killer and Miriam's missing husband.
The culture in Saudi Arabia is an intrinsic part of the story, both secular and religious. The role of women in Saudi society and how they are treated by men is explored as part of the story, and may be quite a shock for western readers who are not familiar with this aspect of life in Saudi Arabia. The plot moves very quickly as one clue after another is found, examined, and then followed to the next clue until the amazing conclusion during a severe windstorm in the desert.
Here is a product description from the inside cover of the book:
"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 medical examiner's office, is determined to make her work mean something.
When the body of a brutally beaten woman is found on the beach in Jeddah, the city's detectives are ready to dismiss 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.
Only Katya is convinced that the victim can be identified and her killer found. She calls upon her friend Nayir for help, and soon discovers that the dead girl was a young filmmaker named Leila, whose controversial documentaries earned her many enemies.
With only the woman's clandestine footage as a guide, Katya and Nayir must confront the dark side of Jeddah that Leila struggled to expose: an underworld of prostitution, violence, exploitation, and jealously guarded secrets. Along the way, they form an unlikely alliance with an American woman whose husband has disappeared. 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."
I hope you enjoy this book.
Some future reviews: The Glass Rainbow, Ape House, A Most Wanted Man, and The Passage.