Rummanah Aasi
  Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferrais has been in my to be pile read for quite sometime. The book is a mystery set in Saudi Arabia and was listed as an Alex Award in 2009, both of which piqued my interest. What really made me want to read this book, however, is learning how a male and a female detective are going to work together to a solve a mystery when their society imposes such strict restrictions on the interaction of the opposite sex.

Description: When Nouf, the daughter of a wealthy family, goes missing the family calls upon desert guide Nayir ash-Sharqi to investigate her disappearance. Her body is found in the desert and the cause of death is cited as death from drowning; however, Nayir isn't fully convinced because newly discovered evidence points to murder. Nayir teams up with a female lab worker named Katya Hijazi to find out what really happened to Nouf.

Review: I've read several reviews of Finding Nouf when it first came out. Some have herald it as a "CSI" meets the bestselling memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran, both of which I don't really care for and didn't really didn't excite me at first. While it is a mystery, Finding Nouf is also a cultural study of modern day Saudi Arabia. Ferrais who was once married to a man from Saudi Arabia and has lived there from sometime, has  has created the first devoutly Muslim sleuth, Nayir ash-Sharqi.
 As I was reading Finding Nouf, I was pleased that the author keeps a balanced viewpoint of the contemporary Islamic state. While she is critical of the strict gender laws placed up on the citizens, she also provides enough information to discuss why these laws were initially placed. Although the mystery is tightly woven and kept me on my toes, I was more riveted with the two detectives. Nayir, Palestinian born, is a desert guide to Jeddah’s elite. When he is approached by a wealthy client to investigate a case of a missing person, he agrees to play private investigator. I liked Nayir because he was intelligent, religious and genuine though a bit too traditional. By traditional I mean that Nayir restricts his interactions with women whenever he can. He won't look at them in the eye or speak directly to them, not because he feels the opposite sex is inferior but rather to uphold his prized value of modesty. As Nayir learns more about who Nouf is through his investigation, he begins to understand that ideas that were initially placed to enrich the lives of all citizens in Saudi Arabia doesn't really work in the modern society, which is not to say that the values are wrong just that they should be interpreted with the lens of the 21st century. His worldview and personal opinions are further stretched by Katya, a female forensics technician connected to the victim’s family.
   Katya is a modern woman who fought for her right to get an education and a job. She walks that thin line between tradition and modernity yet stays to true to her own beliefs. Her voice alternates with Nayir’s as they defy legal and spiritual precepts to cooperate on the case. Katya and Nayir's chemistry is unique in that there isn't much sexual tension which commonly happens in most mystery novels. They are of the same mind and desire the same things in life. My favorite part of the novel is when Katya and Nayir are having a frank discussion during lunch when they show each other their true vulnerable selfs.

  As I mentioned early, the mystery is quite good but without the engrossing characters it does falter. Clues are given in bits and pieces and the slow pace of the novel may not hold up interest for many readers who are looking for a quick read, but those are who curious about taking a sneak peak in a society that often called 'exotic' should be satisfied. I do know that these characters appear in another mystery together called the City of Veils, which I plan to read soon, but I hope there will be many more.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are allusion to sex in the book along with some language. Although the book is marketed to adults, teens interested in learning about another culture along with mystery will enjoy this book.

If you like this book try: City of Veils by Zoe Ferrais
5 Responses
  1. Great and accurate review. I really liked this book but I agree that the more interesting aspect is the 2 main characters. I found all the Saudi information really interesting!

  2. This sounds very interesting. I have read plenty of books about Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but none set in Saudi Arabia. Regardless of the mystery, the cultural parts sound great.

  3. Helen: So did I! There was a lot of things that I didn't know about.

    Alison: I also have a lot of books set in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan too. Despite the author's personal feelings and experiences, I think she does a good job capturing the feel of the society with an even balance.

  4. The characters sound really good. Like they have a lot depth. Great review :)

  5. Jenny Says:

    This one seems really interesting, I don't read too many mysteries, but I like the sound of these two detectives. I'm also curious about this frank discussion between them, things like that are always my favorite parts of novels as well.

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