Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris

This mystery set in Saudi Arabia doesn’t skim over the differences between our two cultures.  In fact, the author’s description of how both men and women must carefully live their daily lives among the strict religious edicts is a fascinating and critical part of the story.

When a young girl from a wealthy family is found dead in the desert, the family asks Nayir al-Sharqi to discreetly investigate.  Nayir is a Palestinian so he is an outsider in Saudi Arabia, yet he is an experienced desert tracker.  He is also a very conservative Muslim and struggles when he is forced to work with Katya Hijazi, a modern Saudi woman who works in medical examiner’s office.  Katya is engaged to one of the family and is present at the autopsy of young Nouf.  The shocking revelation that Nouf died from drowning before being buried in the desert turns the investigation into a murder inquiry.  Worse yet, Nouf was pregnant and unmarried.

Nayir and Katya’s investigation is a struggle because the wealthy family of Nouf does not wish their business to be known to everyone.  In addition, because of the laws of Saudi Arabia, Nouf’s life was very restricted and spent mostly within the family compound. This means they are investigating the family itself, their employees, and Nouf’s fiancée.

The mystery in this story is just as interesting as the details about the religious laws of Saudi Arabia.  Both of the main characters are believable and sympathetic.  Nayir’s initial reaction to Katya, who speaks directly to him and not through her male boss, is somewhat shocking.  But as they work together their relationship changes, as does Nayir’s thinking about some traditions.  The author was able to paint a realistic picture of modern Saudi Arabia without being judgmental or critical.  I highly recommend this to fans of international mysteries, or anyone who might be curious about life in culture very different from ours.

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