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The Snake Catcher's Daughter
A Mamur Zapt Mystery, No. 8

by Michael Pearce

      One reason I enjoy Michael Pearce's Mamur Zapt series, set in early 20th century Egypt, is because similar issues and conflicts are presented in a way that helps me grasp some of today's Middle East. The basic conflicts and resentments between and among Arabs and Christians, traditional and modern, natives and western overlords in fact if not title, are there, along with how easily mistakes get made out of cultural differences more than intent. The pace was slower, with a different level of violence, and the books themselves are comedies of manners where the social commentary is more about people than battling isms. But there's a definite resonance that's all the more effective for the focus on people over isms.

Captain Gareth Owen is the Mamur Zapt in charge of political investigations under a title once owned by the omnipotent head of the ruling Khedive's secret police. He's technically a servant of the Khedive and genuinely cares about Egypt and her people, but also part of the British shadow government that really runs things under cover of being mere "advisors." Conflicts are inevitable, particularly in a country with a well-established tradition of corruption.

The somewhat na´ve Bimbashi McPhee is an afficianado of religious culture, which is why he let himself be lured into attending a rare Zzarr or woman's exorcism. Since no men, much less Christians, were supposed to be there, news of his presence raised an anti-British fuss. Fuel to a fire being fed by a re-opened investigation into possible corruption by his superior and Owen's predecessor, along with apparent bribes involving women who turn up around Owen himself. Chance, or a coordinated anti-British plot? And what's with the snakes turning up everywhere, from Owen's home shower to curled up around a drugged Bimbashi?

This is a fun tale, full of political intrigue, cultural clashes and co-existence, memorable people (in this series, the real fun is some of the bit parts), wit and humor and a very vividly presented world as viewed through the appreciative eyes of someone who loves it but is far from blind to its faults. Recommended.

The Book

Poisoned Pen Press
Historical mystery - Cairo Egypt 1910
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The Reviewer

Kim Malo
Reviewed 2005
© 2005