Religious uprisings, political unrest, British snobbery and Egyptians languishing in the public baths—it must be another trip to turn-of-the-last-century Cairo.
Navigating an increasingly tricky tightrope, Gareth Cadwallader Owen, the Mamur Zapt whose job description is to lead the Khedive’s Secret Police, must troubleshoot for visiting members of the British High Commission convening at the ritzy Hotel Savoy, as well as worry about the sheiks, pashas and members of the Egyptian hierarchy who'll be strutting their stuff in fancy newfangled cars along a royal procession route. Rumors of a bomb reach Owen, who with a paltry staff of three (plus one car-mad urchin) reacts in the nick of time. His reward is to spend days nosing around souks, squares, mosques, water-cart depots and rural pasha outposts in an attempt to discover who made the bomb, placed it and is still on the loose. The usual suspects—a disgruntled son, a spiritual leader, a westernized easterner, an easternized westerner—are prominently displayed, with the added fillip of a strangling in the public bath, sexism at work in the local hospital and intrigue as thick as the flies bedeviling the camels.
Pearce (The Point in the Market, 2003, etc.) makes his historical tales so witty and plausible that you’ll regret missing Cairo’s heyday. Pump up the air conditioning and enjoy.