A runaway ostrich is the only eyewitness to a murder.
When Gareth Cadwallader Owen, the Mamur Zapt of colonial Cairo (The Camel of Destruction, 2002, etc.), trudges out to rural Matariya, he finds the area in the midst of a growth spurt. Alongside the ostrich farm, the village well, and the holy fig tree where the Virgin and Child once rested lie the soon-to-be-completed tracks for the spanking new railway leading to New Heliopolis, site of a racetrack playground for the rich. Unfortunately, lying on those tracks is the dead body of Ibrahim, who may have been killed by avenging relatives of the woman he debauched; the French, who demand control of that fig tree, supposedly a gift to Empress Eugenie; the Belgian Syndicate underwriting the Heliopolis development; assorted local sheiks and warring pashas; or even Daniel the Copt, who has turned the fig tree into a money-making tourist attraction. In a slapstick prefiguration of Laurel and Hardy decades later, Owen sorts through the political intrigues, gathering pilgrims, and rampaging ostriches while waiting for the Cairo court system to determine who owns that much-coveted fig tree.
A droll view of clashing cultures and nubile daughters, with some helpful advice on why you might want to think twice before taking possession of an ostrich.