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The Last Cut    by Michael Pearce order for
Last Cut
by Michael Pearce
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2000 (1998)
* *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

This book reflects the amazing colonial culture of Egypt in the early-20th century; with so many non-Egyptians in positions of power, ineptly trying to understand the psyche of an Arab / Mediterranean people. The setting is well described, its minutiae of detail evoking a feeling that the author really knows the locale.

However, the plot itself is at times difficult to follow. We never get to fully understand the main character, the Mamur Zapt Gareth Owen, who is the chief of Cairo's Secret Police. In some ways the reader will feel more sympathy with the rather nasty water carrier, Ali Khedri, whose daughter's murder has triggered much unrest in both the Jewish and Arab communities of the city.

The action takes place as Cairo gears up for the final cut or filling up of the canal through the middle of the city, prior to installation of water pipes to all its neighbourhoods. Water is vital to the well-being of the whole community and this theme runs through the book, from the murder of Leila Khedri to a terrorist blowing up of one the regulators for the great dam that supplies water to the downstream farming communities.

The Last Cut is interesting for its detail of Cairo life, showing the discrepancies between rich and poor, but tends to be a little difficult to really get one's teeth into; all the colonial-type characters seem to be cut from the same mold and we start to wonder where one begins and another ends!

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