Friday, March 21, 2008

The Mamur Zapt and the Girl in the Nile

While we're on the subject of colonialism and occupying powers, there are Michael Pearce's Mamur Zapt police procedurals. Pearce brings contemporary sensibilities to an old-style exotic setting: early twentieth-century Egypt, with its competing British, Ottoman and Egyptian interests and its French-style judicial system.

The Mamur Zapt and the the Girl in the Nile, fifth in a series that now numbers sixteen, offers all the trappings of espionage tales of an earlier era: hot, lazy days; cool, callously scheming British officials; and the odd lazy or ingratiating native. But then come the subtly contemporary touches. The mamur zapt's, or British secret police chief's, romantic involvement with an independent daughter of the Egyptian upper classes is the most obvious of these.

More intriguing are remarks such as this: "Not only that. He was also the façade which concealed the realities of British power in Egypt." That's not the sort of thing one is likely to find in, say, John Buchan.

Most intriguing, and likely to hit home with a force as fresh as today's headlines, are passing observations like this one about the populace's unease with police, whom they saw "as the agents of either an alien, infidel force (the British) or a dissolute secular power (the Khedive)."

I shall read this series with considerable interest.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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2 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

Can't you stick to series fiction that I already know? My TBR list grows exponentially with every new post you write!

/whine

March 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

If only there were a way for me to make a few cents every time someone read a book based on a suggestion of mine. I'm sure that once the privatization of our lives is complete and the privacy of our lives is eliminated, chips implanted in all our heads will enable this. Until then, enjoy the books.

This one has made an especially big impression. I assumed when I first heard about the series that Pearce had written at least a few decades back, maybe in the 1940s. Then I started noticing the unexpected observations. Then I found out that he began the series in 1988.

I suppose this makes Pearce at least a distant cousin of Colin Watson, who also addressed surprisingly contemporary themes in a highly traditional style.

March 21, 2008  

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