Gareth Cadwallader Owen is the Mamur Zapt, the Welsh head of the 1908 Cairo Secret Police, in this first novel--a gravely loopy tale of terrorism and chicanery in British-controlled Egypt. A political appointee regarded as an amateur even by his Parquet counterpart, Mahmoud el Zaki at the Ministry of Justice, Owen is responsible for maintaining state security rather than solving crimes or apprehending criminals--and when old-time politician Nuri Pasha is shot, the case comes into his purview in only a limited way. It doesn't take long to identify a drugged-out villager named Mustafa as the inept assassin (he missed Nuri Pasha and wounded a passerby instead), but who hired Mustafa, and why? Was it one of Nuri Pasha's private political enemies? A provocateur trying to foment a revolution against the British mandate? Or perhaps Nuri's rebellious son Ahmed? As in the Nero Wolfe stories, the treat here is the detective's tactical struggles with authority rather than the ingenuity of his solution: to trace Mustafa's gun, Owen puts the screws to a sergeant who's doing time for negligence in connection with an arms theft, making a lasting enemy of the commanding officer, Major Brooker. At the same time, Owen is juggling security arrangements to protect the annual return to Cairo of the Holy Carpet (a silk wrapping for the Kaaba stone at Mecca) from a case of missing grenades and struggling to steer a course that will satisfy the Turkish Khedive, the Syrian consulate, the Egyptian Parquet, and his own masters. Perhaps a little too drolly understated--lots of important action gets summarized or shoved offstage--but a treat for readers who like their detection served with an archly straight face.