Friday, June 11, 2010

Review: CITY OF VEILS by Zoe Ferraris

CITY OF VEILS by Zoe Ferraris (Little, Brown, 2010)

Reviewed by Sarah Gumbley

The burkha-clad body of a young woman is discovered on the grimy sands of Jeddah beach; soon afterwards, a strong-minded American woman finds herself alone and afraid in the most repressive city on earth when her husband suddenly disappears. Investigating policeman Osama Ibrahim, forensic scientist Katya Hijazi and her friend, the strictly devout Bedouin guide Nayir Sharqi join forces to search out the truth in the scorching city streets and the vast, lethal emptiness of the desert beyond. 

The scorching sands of Saudi Arabia provide a fascinating backdrop in the recently released, fast-paced thriller, City of Veils. The unputdownable tale of a seemingly unsolvable murder, is set in that country well known for enforcing its brand of ultra-conservative Islam, where women, hidden beneath full-length veils, remain anonymous and unimportant.

A women’s body is discovered by a local fisherman, after it has washed up on a beach in Jeddah, a busy city in Saudi Arabia. Her burqa is hitched up, revealing a mutilated body. Whoever killed her, hated her passionately: there are stab wounds over her legs, her face and hands are burnt from cooking oil and she has a broken neck. Worse still, the fish have eaten at her for the days she floated out at sea.

The vicious wounds make it difficult to determine who this girl is. Luckily, the police investigator, Osama Ibrahim is on the case. A fair and liberal man, Osama is unlike most of the other men in his team. He is simply there to solve the case, without bribery or corruption. After his assistant, Faiza, is fired for working despite being unmarried (a crime in the country) Osama enlists the help of the new girl, Katya, who works in the forensics lab.

The body turns out to be that of Leila Nawar, a young woman who had recently started work as a documentary filmmaker. Until her untimely demise, she had lived in the home of her overly protective and very conservative brother, the wealthy owner of a successful store in the city. But is it her religious brother, ashamed at her lifestyle, who caused her death, or her shifty cousins, lacking alibis. Or perhaps it was one of the bevy of Saudis, unhappy at being caught by her camera, doing suspicious deeds.

Intertwined with this story is that of Miriam Walker, an American woman who had recently moved to Saudi Arabia with her husband, Eric, a bodyguard. All is fine until one day, when her husband suddenly goes missing. The two occurrences, though vastly different, require all the investigators expertise as they struggle to connect these cases.

City of Veils is an example of literary crime-fiction at its best. This second novel of Ferraris is extremely well written. It is both intriguing and shocking in equal measures, revealing a different way of life, far removed from ours in the western world. Women’s rights, or the lack of them, are especially highlighted. The author, an American woman who lived in Saudi Arabia for a number of years, knows the country, and the culture all too well. It may be fiction, but there is plenty of truth in this story.


Sarah is an Auckland reviewer, who reads literary fiction, biographies, and non-fiction, but lately has started to fall for crime fiction. She has reviewed for Good Reading, NZLawyer, and Scoop Review of Books in the past.


  1. Sounds like a fascinating book!

  2. Sarah - Thanks for this review. It does sound really exciting. I thoroughly enjoyed Zoe Ferraris' debut, Finding Nouf and I can recommend that one. This one has just gone on my TBR list.

  3. I read her two books this week and simply loved them and would also recommend them. Great review you gave the author's all the credits she deserved.