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The Face in the Cemetery    by Michael Pearce order for
Face in the Cemetery
by Michael Pearce
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2001 (2001)
* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

This is the fourteenth book in the Mamur Zapt series, set in Egypt prior to World War One. At that time Great Britain in effect ruled Egypt through the shadowy pretence of advising the nominal ruler, the Khedive. The Mamur Zapt in the past had headed up the Khedive's secret police, but now an Englishman, Gareth Owen, held the position. He was responsible for investigating criminal activity that was political in nature. All other crime was handled by the Parquet, the Department of Prosecutions of the Ministry of Justice, largely Egyptian and enthusiastically Nationalist.

This would appear to be a recipe for jurisdictional tangles, but luckily Owen is exceptional for his time and place in genuinely admiring the Egyptians, and making friends among them, even with the Nationalists. Indeed, he has gone beyond the limits of the times by becoming deeply involved with Zeinab, the only daughter of a Pasha who, like many of the old Egyptian ruling class was French-speaking and heavily Francophile in culture. Partly because of this he had allowed Zeinab an education and a degree of latitude most unusual in Egyptian circles.

The relatonship between Owen and Zeinab, though frequently stormy, has progressed to the point where they have moved in together. In some ways this has merely emphasized the difficulties which they both face from their very separate groups of friends, and in Owen's case, very separate groups of co-workers, English and Egyptian. They both realise that they are moving towards a crisis, and neither is very sure just what is going to happen. However another crisis intervenes: the world goes to war.

Owen is given the unwelcome task of arresting all those with German nationality. However, when he arrives at the village where a German woman lives with her Egyptian husband, he discovers that she is dead, wrapped all but her face in mummy cloth, and left to be found in a cat cemetery. Owen would happily leave this case to the Parquet, as he has become involved in a complex problem of 200 missing rifles, the arming of thousands of village watchmen, ghaffirs, a rise of brigandage and a mysterious, vanishing cat-woman. Luckily, he meets a thumb-sucking, rifle-toting girl child who has been appointed ghaffir of her village, and she sets him straight.

However the face in the cemetery refuses to go away, and Owen comes to realise that the dead woman's relations with her Egyptian husband reflect darkly the same problems faced by himself and Zeinab. Pearce has a very light touch. He evokes complexities of race, religion and culture seemingly incidentally as he tells his stories, almost without the reader's knowledge, and his deep love for Egypt, the land and the people shine through the wit and the amusing plots.

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