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A mystery shrouded by the Muslim world

A debut novel by Zoe Ferraris delves into the social complexity of Saudi Arabia.

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A teenage girl disappears from home, and her body is found in the desert. Cause of death: drowning.
It’s a great set-up for a mystery, but Zoë Ferraris takes things one crucial step further in her entirely enjoyable debut mystery, Finding Nouf. The desert in question is the Saudi Arabian, and Nouf, the daughter of a prominent family in the seaside town of Jeddah, was pregnant. The Shrawis use their influence to have the case closed, and then ask the man who led the search for Nouf to quietly look into her death.

Gentle, hulking, and religiously conservative, the Palestinian-born Niyar al-Sharqi knows more about Bedouin tradition than the pampered oil barons he leads on designer treks so they can get a taste of their nomadic roots. Niyar feels obligated to the family, and to the girl he feels he failed. Also, he can’t help thinking, “when a woman drowns in the largest sand desert in the world, there ought to be an equally remarkable explanation.”

But while examining the evidence at the site where Nouf’s body was found is the work of an afternoon, Niyar finds his investigation hampered by his adopted country’s strict laws governing propriety. He unwillingly teams up with the fiancée of Nouf’s brother, Katya Hijaza, a “brazen” employee at the medical examiner’s office who’s determined to find justice for the young girl she’d hoped to call sister.

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