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by Michael Pearce
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2002
250 pages
ISBN: 1590580249

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

By 1910, the British Empire was starting its slow decline. It had been trying to remake other, older, civilizations into their image, but it wasn't really working. Actually, the Brits were getting co-opted into ancient traditions.

The Camel of Destruction illustrates this disintegration. The Mamur Zapt is a Welshman, Captain Owen, who is nominally the head of the political criminal investigation division of Cairo.. A minor civil servant is found dead at his desk. Owen smells a rat and starts investigating, but he is thwarted by other civil servants and the bureaucracy that would rather brush the whole matter under the carpet and just go on.

A developer wants to build a road through the center of Cairo that would destroy many ancient buildings. In fact, some of the buildings have already changed hands. An ancient school and a mosque are in the way and are scheduled for demolition. The peasants are forced to buy their seed from a quasi-government agency and borrow money from the government bank in order to buy the seed. And Owen is in love with a beautiful Egyptian prostitute, the daughter of the Grand Mufti and his paramour.

This is another view of the Egypt of Amelia Peabody. The British rulers have the same supercilious behavior...the we're white and they're not mentality that still exists to a great extent, but it also gives us an insight into the problems of the Egyptians and the attitude of the British in the period before WW I.

The story seems to wend lazily through the tangles of government bureaus with tongue-in-cheek, but it leaves much to think about after one finishes it. There are marvellous characters, such as the Widow Shawquat, who is determined to stop the road no matter what; Ali the street boy who is Owen's liaison to the murdered man's sister; and Own himself.

Pearce grew up in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, so he is familiar with the British ex-pat mentality, and it shows. Poisoned Pen Press is to be congratulated for bringing this out of print series to the US. This is the second in the series and more will be available shortly.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, May 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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