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The Face in the Cemetery
A Mamur Zapt Mystery

By Michael Pearce

    As Mamur Zapt, Captain Gareth Owen has been an appreciative observer of the human comedy created by interactions among the various peoples living in Egypt. Not the least of his worldly charms has been the sense of an essential Egyptian way of doing things at the core, with intrusions from the outside world forced to change their own ways to suit it rather than being the ones imposing all the change. But it's 1914 and the clouds around WWI hang heavily everywhere. Suddenly Owen's world is full of too many real changes and not-so-funny interactions.

   Instead of the sort of political investigations and balancing acts that make up the job he's enjoyed, the Mamur Zapt's time is now devoted to hunting down registered Germans for internment. On the domestic front, Owen and Zeinab have decided it's past time they dealt with the issues around their cross-cultural relationship to either regularize it by marriage or separate before they're too old to find someone new. Zeinab has taken a huge first step by moving in with Owen, but it's a shaky one, made shakier by his considering volunteering to fight in the war.

   Professional and personal problems intersect when one of the Germans Owen is reluctantly rounding up turns out to be the face on a mummy discovered in a cat cemetery. Investigation into her death makes clear its roots in desperate unhappiness arising out of a European/Egyptian mixed marriage such as he and Zeinab are contemplating. Meanwhile Owen also has to sort out the ramifications of a shortsighted plan to arm country watchmen. Ramifications include two hundred missing rifles that seem to be turning up in strange places, such as the hands of a thumb sucking girl or the brigands from whom she rescues Owen.

    It's the human comedy absurdities in a vividly depicted setting that make the Mamur Zapt books such a delight. There's more sadness in this one than others in this effervescent series, but it's still highly recommended as an escape to another world full of color and life and memorable characters.

The Book

Poisoned Pen Press
December 2004
Historical Crime [1914 Egypt]
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The Reviewer

Kim Malo
Reviewed 2005
© 2005