The Mamur Zapt brings his very specialized set of skills to bear on a kidnapping, with predictably unpredictable results.
It isn’t bad enough that wealthy schoolgirl Marie Kewfik has disappeared; it turns out that she was snatched from right under the nose of Ali Shawquat, the talented but impoverished musician who was hopelessly in love with her. The kidnappers, in accord with the protocol of 1913 Cairo, are in no hurry to press their demands, and Ali Fingari, Marie’s wealthy eldest uncle, has done nothing but hand off the negotiations to his son Ali Osman Fingari, whose greatest talent seems to be for brightly self-effacing vanity. So Marie’s schoolmate Layla, sensing a power vacuum that could doom her friend, appeals to the Mamur Zapt, Capt. Gareth Cadwallader Owen, the Head of Special Branch (The Mouth of the Crocodile, 2015, etc.), only because she’s decided not to pursue her first choice, his wife Zeinab, whom Layla sees as a shining example of the New Woman. The case falls outside Owen’s purview—his involvement is supposed to be limited to political matters—but between the determination of Layla, the schoolmates who are ready to demonstrate on the missing girl’s behalf, and his boss, the Khedive, Owen finds himself pursuing it anyway. In Pearce’s decorously circumlocutory colonial Egypt, however, it’s understood from the beginning that both the criminals and the variously distraught family will exclude him from the negotiations. Fortunately, a series of other crimes, from hashish dealing to murder, end up leading back to the matter of Marie’s abduction.
Hands-down the least suspenseful kidnapping story you’re ever likely to read, with the toothless kidnappers and killers mostly remaining anonymous even after they’re captured. Fans of this long-running series, however, will find all the accustomed gravely loopy charm.