Top positive review
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A crime story with a difference
on 21 July 2010
A woman's body is washed up on a beach, mutilated and unrecognisable. Detective Inspector Osama Ibrahim investigates. Meanwhile, Miriam Walker returns to Jeddah after a month's holiday back home in America, but shortly afterwards her husband Eric disappears. Could the American's disappearance be linked to the murder?
In her job as a technician in the local forensic lab, Katya is trying to piece together evidence that might reveal the murdered woman's identity, while trying to come to terms with the reappearance in her life of Nayir, a desert guide and devout Muslim. He is as troubled by his feelings for Katya, as she is about hers for him. She is clearly not the sort of girl who will accept the traditional woman's role of wife and mother, and when chance offers her the opportunity of a greater role in the investigation Katya jumps at it.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the way it highlights the position of women in modern Saudi society, the gulf between the fundamentalists and the modernists who risk the wrath of the so-called `religious police' by exposing their faces and seeking employment outside the home.
It's a tightly plotted story that unfolds at a gripping pace, once you get through the first third of the book. Until then I thought it was ok but nothing special - and I was waiting for the `maze of narrow streets' that so tantalisingly beckoned from the description on the front cover. Also (for me at least) there was nothing to give me a flavour of Jeddah itself. Apart from the heat and the repressive regime, the story could have been set in virtually any city. Certain aspects of the investigation, such as Nayir's involvement in it, seemed a bit unlikely too - after all, he's a desert guide, not a policeman.
The writing style is neither poetic nor particularly elegant, but fluent enough to make it an easy read. The main characters are well drawn, so you feel you know them and begin to understand how they think, even when their thoughts and beliefs are alien to your own. Nayir is the most interesting character, his experiences of meeting Miriam acting as a catalyst to his questioning of long-held ideology.
Don't be put off by a pedestrian start. It's not the greatest fiction but it's a good story that develops into something every bit as tense as the blurb suggests. With a touch of romance and its insight into Saudi society, it's so much more than an ordinary crime story. Well worth the read.