A sultan’s pet cat is poisoned.
Not everyone loved poor pussy. One wife did, another didn’t, and the rest of the sultan’s harem was neutral. The sultan, however, adored the creature, possibly because there’s so little else in his life to like. He’s been exiled from Turkey, forced into less-than-palatial digs in Greece and left with a handful of wives. And several Balkan countries think it would be nice if he perished. Was the cat a first strike? Scotland Yard sends Special Branch Officer Seymour to investigate. He’s soon embroiled in Balkan politics of 1913 and cat-fighting on the domestic front. Lady Samira wishes to be First Wife; Lady Irina would do anything to escape the harem, the eunuchs who oversee it and the sundry Viziers and Acting Viziers. Along the way, a rudimentary aeroplane is sabotaged, an additive is drizzled into goat’s milk, chocolates are tinkered with and the sultan turns out to be a hypochondriac. Nonetheless, Seymour wends his way through the troublemakers to assign blame, then head back to England for what he hopes will be a spot of tranquility.
Pearce brings a lighter, droller touch to the Seymour series (A Dead Man in Trieste, 2004) than to his tales of Egypt’s Mamur Zapt. But he still excels at documenting early-20th-century politics and attitudes.