Called away from a routine arms search to examine the corpse of a young woman who's fallen from a pleasure boat moored in the Nile, Gareth Cadwallader Owen, the Mamur Zapt of 1909 Cairo (The Mamur Zapt and the Men Behind, 1993, etc.), finds that the body has already disappeared. The boat's owner, minor royal scion Prince Narouz, disclaims any knowledge of the victim's identity--she was just a party girl invited to supplement his harem, he blandly assures Owen--and nobody can explain who she was or why she would have fallen from a stationary boat in a calm river. Starting with a few trivial details about the dead woman's costume, though, Owen is able to find out that she was the clinging companion first of an influential journalist and then of a rising sculptor before Narouz met her at the opening-night party for a new play. This alarms his superiors, who are afraid his investigation will interfere with an all-important agreement ever-pending between Narouz's father and the occupying British. This, in turn, infuriates his mistress, Zeinab, who thinks he's going to soft-pedal the investigation. By the time the corpse resurfaces--this time in a most embarrassing place--Owen is almost ready to hide it again himself. Pearce's pace is as deliberate and gravely amused as ever, but his uncharacteristic focus on a central mystery comes at a high price: Lacking the local color of Owen's four earlier adventures, this one is his least distinctively charming and amusing to date.