Sunday, September 28, 2008

Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris

Finding Nouf is set in Saudi Arabia, which adds a different dimension to the traditional murder mystery. It would seem impossible to investigate a crime if you cannot talk to half the population. This is the situation that Nayir ash-Sharqi finds himself in when he is asked by a friend, Othman Shrawi, to investigate the death of Othman’s sister, Nouf.

Nayir is caught in a difficult spot. He is a very observant Muslim and cannot be seen in the company of an unmarried woman. He is even uncomfortable looking at women. His first meeting with Katya Hijazi is surprising to him. “There would of course be female examiners to handle the female corpses, but seeing one in the flesh was a shock. She wore a white lab coat and a hijab, a black scarf, on her hair. Because her face was exposed, he averted his gaze, blushing as he did so.” However, Nayir finds that he really needs Katya’s help to investigate Nouf’s death and has to figure out a way to work with her.

The story goes back and forth illustrating Nayir’s discomfort with Katya and Katya’s unhappiness at some of the traditions in her country. Here she finds it unpleasant to sit with her dad on their front step: “The day crowds were gone, the souk vendors’ carts were folded away, and now the local residents wandered by, some of them waving of calling greetings to Abu, others avoiding him for fear of seeing Katya’s unveiled face. She counted them as they passed – the men who wouldn’t say hello to a friend because she was there, because looking at her would have been as dangerous as staring at the sun – and she got to four before she went inside.”

The mystery itself is interesting and worth reading. There are unexpected revelations as the life of a wealthy, but unhappy, 16 year old is investigated. I found myself pretty interested in the descriptions of the way of life. Zoƫ Ferraris is an American who spent time living in Saudi Arabia with her former husband and has significant insight into that life. The plight of Nayir as an orphan from Palestine living in Saudi Arabia is also intriguing. He really wants to be married, but he cannot meet women on his own and does not have the necessary relatives that can make introductions.

Bendites will appreciate a scene involving Nayir and roundabouts. I am looking forward to more from this author.

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