I absolutely love these distinctive, clever, engaging
stories set in Egypt at the start of the twentieth
The Mamur Zapt is the title of the Head of Secret Police.
However, the British 'advisors' who at the time help to
the country have placed a Welshman in this post. This
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
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
Zapt series grows out of the tensions and politenesses
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.
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
Zapt books by Michael Pearce. This particular story
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-
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 –
that he himself was the intended target. He insists that
Mamur Zapt, Head of the Khedive’s Secret Police, escorts
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
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?