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The Mark of the Pasha
Mamur Zapt series, book #16

by Michael Pearce

      Hearing that Michael Pearce was ending his Mamur Zapt series with 2005's The Point in the Market (also reviewed on didn't exactly ruin my life, but it certainly removed a bit of sunshine from it. This has long been one of my favorite historical mystery series, combining the expected puzzle and solid sense of place with delightfully wry social commentary and comedy. Well the Mamur Zapt is back....

The social changes that have underscored the entire series have accelerated in the wake of WWI. That means the conflicts have too. The British occupation wasn't popular even amongst those who most benefited before, but now it's come to street stabbings and bombs. Sound familiar? That's another thing I love about this series - I think it sheds a lot of genuinely helpful light on some of the problems in the Middle East today, including dramatic illustrations of how easily things are made worse through well meant ignorance, particularly cultural ignorance, without requiring active malice. The fact that it does so from the viewpoint of a tolerant observer, with an undercurrent of human comedy and without the extra political baggage surrounding current conflicts, makes those lessons easier to absorb. The Mark of the Pasha seems to make that connection more consciously than prior books, but within the story, not at all to its detriment.

Captain Owen, the Mamur Zapt (head of the ruling Khedive's Secret Police, now more a political crime investigator and defuser rather than the instrument of terror the office once was) is caught squarely in the middle of most of the conflicts. Professionally, but also personally. Part of the occupying English - well, in his case, Welsh - he also reports directly to the Khedive and finds many of his sympathies with the Egyptians and their causes rather than the Western powers. While being married to an independent-minded pasha's daughter, who is finding fulfillment in a job she does unexpectedly well, means he's caught squarely in the middle of Egypt's own societal disruptions. With a foot in each world, he's expected to both minimize threats to the British while leading a Khedive-promoted parade rumored to be targeted for bombing. All the while coping with his wife's desire to drive the automobile left at his disposal for the parade, as he envisions exactly what the local response to THAT would be, and deal with the "innocents abroad" commission from England whose decisions may well decide Egypt's future... and his own.

This is another enjoyable read in what is just a great series - fun, filled with vivid life and engaging characters, set in a world that may be unimaginable in some ways but echoes in other, very human, ones, with our own. The Mark of the Pasha probably isn't amongst my absolute favorites in this series, but neither is it anywhere near my least favorite. It's nothing less than a solid return for the Mamur Zapt, leaving me very happy to have him back in action. Recommended.

The Book

Poisoned Pen Press
May 10, 2008
Historical Mystery - Post WW I Egypt
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The Reviewer

Kim Malo
Reviewed 2008
© 2008