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Mystery Monday Review – The Mamur Zapt & the Return of the Carpet

The Mamur Zapt & the Return of the Carpet by Michael Pearce


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1988 historical police procedural thriller was the first in a series that is still going with as many as 19 published as of 2016.

The Mamur Zapt is a title for the head of the secret political police in Cairo, capital of an Egypt indirectly run by the British in the early 20th century. Gareth Cadwallader Owen, a Welsh army captain, is young to have such an important job but he has two important qualifications. He’s a member of an ethnic group with a romantic past so he’s canny about the ways of thinking of embattled minorities. He’s also smarter than the bureaucrats and military types he works with, both of whom depend much on smokescreen and force respectively.

The author was born in the Sudan so his details about the heat and environment come from real life observation. His line about the smell of wet sand in 120-degree heat brought back Saudi Arabia for me. Pearce skillfully evokes settings such as crowded cafes, interrogation rooms, and busy street life. Pearce wonderfully describes a bath house (hammam) when Owen and his faithful counterpart Mahmoud tail a crook. This scene took me back to hot springs in Japan: the ritual of washing before entering the bath, the talking with other patrons, enjoying snacks and beer.

Indeed, readers may object that the book is long on scene setting and cross-cultural interaction but short on action. I will grant the climax was a lot less rip-roaring than I like in a thriller, but I’m told low-key climaxes and subdued endings are not unusual with this writer.

I think that readers will like this novel who like historical mysteries, terrorist intrigues, and Middle Eastern settings. Similar authors are Michael Gilbert, Eric Ambler, and John le Carré.




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