When the badly beaten and burned body of a young woman washes up on shore near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Inspector Osama Ibrahim doesn't hold out much hope for finding her killer. Aided by Katya, an ambitious lab tech, however, he discovers the identity of the victim and begins investigating her life and death. Katya is a bright young woman who follows oblique clues and assists Osama in the field, as well as enlisting the help of an old friend, Nayir. She had not spoken to Nayir in some time, but both find that the feelings they have for one another are still very much alive. Their romance becomes more complicated, though, when they meet a lonely American woman in need of help when her husband goes missing.
I acquired this book because I was interested in seeing how a murder mystery would unfold in Saudi Arabian culture, and was greatly rewarded. Not only is the mystery here intriguing, but the culture in which the story unfolds is riveting reading, as well. Almost everyone has heard horror stories of how women are treated in Saudi Arabia, but this novel goes beyond stereotypes and focuses on realistic characters. We see Saudi culture from several angles: the devout Muslim man determined to follow religious law while wrestling with his feelings for a woman, a more progressive man who seems determined to ignore old-fashioned practices, an American man bewitched by the place, a young Saudi woman comfortable in her role while still feeling its restrictions, and a lonely American woman attempting to find her way in an unfamiliar land. I found these insights fascinating, and appreciated the author's ability to show us a slice of a very different culture without passing judgments on it.
I recommend this book to anyone who likes a good, gripping mystery with a rich back story, and can't wait to read other books by this author.