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The Mouth of The Crocodile

The Mouth of The Crocodile, March 2015
Mamur Zapt #18
by Michael Pearce

Severn House Publishers
Featuring: Gareth Owen; Jamie; Aisha
181 pages
ISBN: 0727884638
EAN: 9780727884633
Kindle: B00SHUMNAA
Hardcover / e-Book
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"Characters and camels in an early twentieth century Egyptian murder mystery"

Fresh Fiction Review

The Mouth of The Crocodile
Michael Pearce

Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted February 20, 2015

Mystery Historical | Multicultural Mystery

I absolutely love these distinctive, clever, engaging crime stories set in Egypt at the start of the twentieth century. The Mamur Zapt is the title of the Head of Secret Police. However, the British 'advisors' who at the time help to run the country have placed a Welshman in this post. This suits everyone, and Gareth Owen, who is not one of the Cambridge graduates who populate the civil service, is an outsider who yet manages to gain everyone's trust.

THE MOUTH OF THE CROCODILE is to be feared by anyone bathing in the Nile. When a man is found drowned, the superstitious locals in Sudan don't want to recover the body, but eventually the need to give him a decent burial takes precedence. A young English lad called Jamie is fascinated by everything that goes on, and his sharp eyes and ears are a tremendous help to the Mamur Zapt. Jamie's father helps to run the railway, and a wealthy Pasha has been dispatched to this town with Owen as guard, escorting some important papers. Owen would love to get a look at the papers, but everyone accepts that he will spy on behalf of the British if he gets a chance.

The good-humoured double thinking that permeates the Mamur Zapt series grows out of the tensions and politenesses of the different cultures and global jockeying for position. Descriptions are never overdone of the river half a mile wide, the amused tactful Welshman, the fat sweating Pasha. We are told that the elderly ferryboat has square patched sails and chickens peck around the feet of travellers, but author Michael Pearce prefers to get on with the story and let characters reveal themselves by their actions and words. I love the polite, prep-school conversation of young Jamie, especially when he meets an Egyptian girl, self-possessed Ayesha, whose father is a prosecutor.

By this stage Owen and his wife Zeinab have a new baby. Not everyone supports the ruling Khedive, and Owen suspects that the dead man knew of a plot. The Sudanese sun is hotter than in Egypt, and a royal rail coach has to be arranged to carry the Pasha home in style. The long empty crossing of the desert would be an ideal spot for sabotage so the Mamur Zapt, and Jamie, are on guard. They can't guard against a sandstorm though, and the train is stranded, half-buried, in the middle of nowhere.

THE MOUTH OF THE CROCODILE is hilarious and respectful at once, full of drama, characters and local flavour. I can think of few better historical crime series than the Mamur Zapt books by Michael Pearce. This particular story does involve a lot of politics of the day, so if you are new to the series, a good place to start would be The Snake- Catcher's Daughter.

Learn more about The Mouth of The Crocodile

SUMMARY

Atbara, Sudan, 1913. A dead man is fished out of the River Nile. An accident – or something more sinister? A visiting Pasha from the Royal Household believes it was murder – and that he himself was the intended target. He insists that the Mamur Zapt, Head of the Khedive’s Secret Police, escorts him on his return train journey to Cairo, for protection.

It’s to be an eventful voyage. Matters take an unexpected turn when the train is stranded in the desert following a sandstorm. With the help of English schoolboy Jamie Nicholson, the Mamur Zapt pursues his investigations, convinced that at least one of his fellow passengers has a secret to hide. And what was the Pasha really doing in that remote corner of the Sudan? Could the Mamur Zapt’s deepest fears be true? Could he really be about to uncover a conspiracy against the British?


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