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The Camel of Destruction: A Mamur Zapt Mystery    by Michael Pearce order for
Camel of Destruction
by Michael Pearce
Order:  USA  Can
Poisoned Pen, 2003 (1993)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is the seventh in a series starring Welsh born Captain Owen, who has the unenviable role of Mamur Zapt (Head of Cairo's Secret Police) in 1910 colonial Egypt. A comment on reading the newspaper - 'he read it twice; before publication, to stop undesirable elements from getting in, and after publication, to realize, resignedly, that they had' - gives a flavor of the light irony with which the series is written.

Owen's problems begin when Osman Fingari is discovered dead in his Ministry of Agriculture office after taking prussic acid. The global picture includes falling cotton prices, the probability of a major riot over the prospect of a road through the city (which would require the destruction of many mosques), and the usual corruption in high places. There is also a petition about a waqf, a religious endowment, and in Owen's private life, a growing desire to propose to Zeinab, with an accompanying fear that he cannot support the lifestyle to which her Pasha father has accustomed her.

As Owen investigates, he learns more than he ever wanted to know about the life cycle of the boll weevil, uncovers the fact that associates of Fingari's had been putting a great deal of pressure on him, and is concerned about the debt-ridden state of the fellahin. He fears the coming of the Camel of Destruction, a legendary 'sort of Apocalyptic Beast'. Of course, he finally fends it off, as always

I haven't read every one of this series but dabble in it from time to time, to catch up on the Mamur Zapt's doings. The Camel of Destruction is one of the better episodes, with some delightful commentary on bureaucracies, such as this one on Copts in Cairo, original inhabitants of the city, who 'settled in the Ministries like water finding its own level.' Read the series for an interesting period of history, a light mystery and plenty of irony.

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