Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferris

Author: Zoe Ferraris
Publisher: Mariner
Format: Paperback
Genre: Murder Mystery


When sixteen-year-old Nouf goes missing, along with a truck and her favorite camel, her prominent family calls on Nayir al-Sharqi, a desert guide, to lead a search party. Ten days later, just as Nayir is about to give up in frustration, her body is discovered by anonymous desert travelers. But when the coroner’s office determines that Nouf died not of dehydration but from drowning, and her family seems suspiciously uninterested in getting at the truth, Nayir takes it upon himself to find out what really happened to her.

He quickly realizes that if he wants to gain access to the hidden world of women, he will have to join forces with Katya Hijazi, a lab worker at the coroner’s office. Their partnership challenges Nayir, bringing him face to face with his desire for female companionship and the limitations imposed by his beliefs.


This novel is something of a misrepresentation. It might be titled Finding Nouf, but Nouf is found quite dead, about ten pages into the story. And, from there on in, this flimsy excuse for a murder mystery takes on a plodding pace. While two of the most unlikeliest characters ever conceived are thrown together by circumstances in finding out the truth of Nouf’s death and, more to the point, who did it. I found I cared very little for either of them, let alone for poor dead Nouf.

This was one long, hard, struggle to maintain any interest in any character, or what was going on, because of the somewhat glacial pacing. This is NOT a taut, psychological suspense novel, as the publicity would have you believe, neither is there any real suspense as the two unlikely sleuths plod their way through finding, gathering and analysing hearsay, evidence, and facts. Seemingly unable to tell the difference between the three.

The problem with all the characters is, they’re not very well fleshed out. Two dimensional at best, they’re there to poke into places they shouldn’t so the author can spotlight how life might be for both men, and segregated women, in Saudi society.

There’s never really any action, and people flit in and out so the author can describe this or that situation or make a point, without too much context to this being about a young woman’s murder. Because the characters are there as almost a backdrop, the dialogue suffers. Stilted in parts and nonsensical in others. It became almost comical at times. Even the chance to make the desert a character, in and of it self, is a missed opportunity. 

Far from being a mystery, and far from solving a murder, this novel is more about a westerner’s, and an outsider’s eye-view of life in the dark corners of Saudi life. We are introduced to a number of minor characters by way of showing what life is like for outsiders within this stifling religious country, and how different sections of society live and get by. Not so much a murder mystery as an exploration or mores and morals of a society that tries to project a face of religious piety to the world, while behaving quite differently behind the golden curtain.

The author actually, quite deftly, shows us a sneak peek behind that curtain and what might lie beyond, as I’m sure, even she doesn’t really know. But, nonetheless, still feels qualified to tell us a number of times how ‘blind’ the Saudi people are. A euphemism perhaps for something else? This is definitely more a story about reading between the lines but then again, maybe it’s me who who’s reading between the lines. I don’t know.

My take-away from this, is that Finding Nouf is more about highlighting certain aspects of life inside a repressed country than a murder-mystery. If you are all right with that, then great, you might enjoy Ferraris’s look behind the curtain. Otherwise, I suggest you steer well clear of this one, and go find a real murder-mystery to read, I’m sure it will be far more satisfying.

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