Libby Fischer Hellmann has done something remarkable with her latest mystery novel; written a gripping tale of betrayal and murder and placed it in an international setting with an ancient culture that most Americans know little about. And she's done it without relying on stereotypes.
A Bitter Veil tells the story of Anna, an American who falls in love with Nouri, an Iranian foreign exchange student. The story is set in the late 70's before the Islamic Revolution, when Iran send thousands of students to the United States to be educated as part of a modernization effort.
With his charm, good looks and a healthy dose of Persian love poetry, Nouri wins Anna's heart. They return to Iran where Anna struggles, and eventually succeeds in fitting into a strange and vibrant culture. But after the Shah is overthrown, changes begin to sweep through the country, affecting not just Anna, but all the people of Iran. The Islamic Revolution, like the French and Russian revolutions before it, begins with high hopes and aspirations but eventually descends into paranoia and tyranny. Hassan, Nouri's oldest and closest friend, joins the Revolutionary Guards. Even Nouri is caught up in the chaos, and starts treating Anna with suspicion, demanding she dress more conservatively and obey his orders without question. He often disappears without explanation. Anna, like many Iranians around her, decides to flee the country. But before she can put her plan into motion, she is arrested for murder.
As an American in a foreign country, she has almost no allies, no one to believe her. Ironically, Hassan, who has become swept up in religious fervor and the revolution, is convinced that Anna is innocent, and struggles to find a way to help her.
This story has all the elements of a first rate mystery. Despite the foreign setting, Libby paints her characters with a full palette, both the good and the bad, showing the warmth and beauty of Persian culture, along with the tears and blood caused by the Revolution. Anna and Nouri are far from the only victims.
This tale will stay with you long after the final page is turned.