Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Michael Pearce, The Face in the Cemetery: A Mamur Zapt Mystery

Michael Pearce, The Face in the Cemetery: A Mamur Zapt Mystery
Poisoned Pen Press, 2001
ISBN 798-1-59058-296-1
Also available as an ebook

It's August, 1919, and Gareth Owen is in Cairo, serving as the head (the Egyptian title is Mamur Zapt) of the Secret (political) police.  The war  has begun, which raises a lot of issues--IfTurkey enters the war of the side of Germany, for example, what will Egypt do?  Should Englishmen in Egypt remain in their posts, or volunteer for war service? 

Owen's job is complicated by the order t0 intern German nationals; this is made doubly complicated because one of them, Herr Fricker, who worked for an Egyptian ministrey, is the author of a plan to arm the village watchmen (ghaffirs--there are 50,000 villages) with modern military rifles, with a first consignment of 850.  Is this a German plot? 

Meanwhile, a body is found in an ancient Egyptian temple site, wrapped in grave cloths, and poisoned (arsenic).  She is the (German) wife of an Egyptian who works in the sugar refining factory.

 All of this has consequences for Owen's relationship with Zeinab (whose father was once and may be again a minister in the Egyptian government). 

Yes, it's complex.  Owen has to somehow get the murder investigation into the hands of his friend Mohammed (lawyer in the prosecutor's office), find 200 missing rifles, determine whether the rifle plan was a German plot.  Oh, and help solve the murder.  The setting is, as usual in the series, brilliantly realized, and the political complexities are nicely handled.  (Some of these are purely British issues, including establishing a coordinating committee of which one member is a strange, supercilious little man named Lawrence). 

Pearce handles all the complexities of the plot well, and, if the resolution leaves some things hanging, well, that's almost inevitable.  A very good book in a very good series (which now has 19 entries, including the recent The Women of the Souk.

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