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by Michael Pearce
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2004
230 pages
ISBN: 1590580656

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Reading, much less reviewing, a book that is number 13 in a series is difficult at best. Being honest in one's judgment runs up against fairness, knowing that details presented in earlier books might solve problems with the present story. That said, I enjoyed this book yet cannot recommend it unreservedly.

The plot involves gun-running in early 20th century Egypt and a brutal and inexplicable murder secondary to that activity. Gareth Owen, the British Mamur Zapt or chief of Cairo's secret police, investigates the killing of an Italian citizen who has lived long enough in the city district of Nahhasin to be considered a native by most locals. The text is saturated with dialogue and behavior in what strikes me as authentic style of the times and because of that, reads well. But there are problems.

Narrative structure is absent. Paragraphing is weird and inconsistent. I found several typos -- nothing unusual in any printed matter, but still . . . Further, if I hadn't been semi-knowledgeable about the history of the time and place, I would have lost much of the understated nuance that the writer wove throughout the text. A reader looking just for a good mystery story will be at sea and soon bored.

I liked the spare writing style, but wonder if it serves the general reader well. I could 'hear' the speakers but found the narrative lacking in detail that might have helped place scene, setting and character more solidly. The writer, it seemed to me, stood at an appalling distance from his subject and the material suffers for it. The text is a fair first draft.

Yet I found the book to be a pleasant diversion. Because of the distance mentioned above, I didn't care what happened or even if the murder was solved, so I read along with mild interest, absorbing information as I found it entertaining. It is an old man's book set in a world long gone where relationships are based on honor, not emotion. Yet it is emotion that drives the crime. The women in the story merely serve to confuse the hero who never really 'gets' what they are about. Not even at the end.

Reviewed by Sharon Brondos, August 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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