City of Veils Review
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Some authors have the ability to write a gripping mystery. Others have a talent for developing convincing characters. Still others can turn a novel into an enlightening cultural experience. But very few can do all three, as author Zoë Ferraris does in City of Veils, a riveting mystery that’s set in the streets of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

It’s been several months since Nayir Sharqi last spoke to forensic scientist Katya Hijazi—since they worked together (sinfully, any pious Muslim would say) to solve Nouf Shrawi’s death (in 2008’s Finding Nouf). But although the close relationship that he and Katya once enjoyed is against his strict religious beliefs, Nayir can’t stop thinking about her—even all these months later.

What Nayir’s uncle sends him to the coroner’s office for information about a friend’s death, Nayir and Katya reunite. Though she’s frustrated by the fundamentalism that keeps them separate, Katya asks Nayir for his help with a new murder investigation—one that could improve her chances of becoming a detective.

Katya is helping Detective Osama Ibrahim investigate the murder of a young filmmaker named Leila—a woman whose filmmaking dreams often got her into trouble. The hunt for Leila’s killer leads them to yet another mystery: an American woman whose husband has gone missing. And as they dig deeper, the case makes all three question their culture and their beliefs.

City of Veils has it all. It’s an absorbing mystery—two of them, in fact—filled with suspects and possibilities and complicated by cultural matters. Though the two stories seem unrelated at first, they come together well, adding even more interest to an already fascinating case.

It’s also a compelling character study. Each character has his or her own issues and concerns—and Ferraris integrates them all into the story, giving each one just the right amount of attention without distracting readers’ attention away from the main plot. Katya struggles to be taken seriously at work, despite the challenges she faces as a woman in Saudi Arabia. Miriam is alone in a foreign country where she could be arrested simply because her husband is missing. Nayir is confused by his feelings—and his desire to be with Katya, even though it’s against his beliefs. And Osama begins to realize that his liberal take on his job doesn’t always carry over into his marriage. They’re all conflicted characters who are struggling with some pretty serious concerns—yet the story doesn’t get bogged down in personal philosophies or religious issues. It doesn’t preach. Instead, readers learn more about the city, its culture, and the characters while getting caught up in an absorbing story.

And, finally, City of Veils also offers an eye-opening look at Islamic culture—especially as it relates to women. Having lived in Jeddah for a year with her ex-husband, Ferraris knows the city and its culture and its inhabitants well—and, through her fictional characters, she relates her own stories and experiences, inviting readers into a world that seems so foreign. She paints a striking picture not only of the culture but of the city and its people as well.

While the story is beautifully told and the complex characters are flawlessly developed, it’s the book’s cultural insights that make it a must-read—one that’s just as educational as it is entertaining.

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