A subtle mystery of culture and manners set in Egypt in the early 1980s.
Reitberg, an undistinguished, middle-aged German scholar in an obscure discipline, is asked to look into an Islamic land trust during his sabbatical in Cairo. While pouring through government archives and grappling with local bureaucrats he meets a series of fascinating and increasingly shady characters, each claiming to be the heir to an inheritance worth millions of pounds. The stakes soon become much higher when the body of a beautiful Turkish lawyer is found lying in a ditch. Initially timid and somewhat naive, Reitberg gathers his courage and works to solve the murder, his own life also at risk. Drawing on his vast knowledge of the material and setting, Behrens does a masterful job evoking the feel of an awkward stranger in a strange land. Although he is an expert in Islamic studies, Reitberg is often out of touch, unaware of the political and social implications of the events taking place around him. Turning to his friends and acquaintances for help, each of whom is skillfully drawn by the author, Reitberg comes to an understanding about both himself and his subject, developing insight into human behavior and modern Egypt. The setting of the early 1980s is crucial to the novel’s events yet will also seem poignant to a contemporary reader. Religious extremists are regarded as nothing more than a nuisance, and the most serious repercussions a foreigner seems to face are being snubbed by the upper crust of Cairo society while attending parties or being regarded as a buffoon by the locals.
An intelligent novel that creates a sense of nostalgia for the recent yet sadly distant past.