"Each scene is sharply rendered with local color, and Pearce explains often complex social and political behavior through believable dialogue."-Publishers Weekly
"A vanished world comes alive in Pearce's deft, humorous, elegant prose." -Sunday Times of London
The Mamur Zapt, Head of Cairo's Secret Police under British Rule, did not concern himself with routine police matters. His are the intrigues, the shadowy and sinister events aimed at creating political instability-an event such as the discovery of the body of a dog in a Coptic tomb. This supreme Muslim insult could touch off an explosion among the Christian community. Equally volatile is the visit by an English Member of Parliament intent upon inspecting the Cromer administration's accounts. It is not a welcome time for a command that Captain Owen, the Mamur Zapt, show the MP's niece the sights. Worse, the sights include a dancing dervish stabbed before the lady's very eyes. Is this all part of a pattern that could lead to blood on the streets and set Cairo's ethnic communities at each other's throats?
Michael Pearce, who made his much-praised debut in The Mamur Zapt and the Return of the Carpet, continues to chart Owen's fortunes with his trademark sly humor and relish for the oddities of Egyptian life.
About the Author
Michael Pearce grew up in the (then) Anglo-Egyptian Sudan among the political and other tensions he draws on for his books. He returned there later to teach and retains a human rights interest in the area. His career has followed the standard academic rake's progress from teaching to writing to administration. He finds international politics a pallid imitation of academic ones.
Read an Excerpt
The Night of the DogA Mamur Zapt Mystery
By Michael Pearce
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 1989 Michael Pearce
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Mamur Zapt would have treated it all as a joke if Nikos, his official clerk, had not been so insistent.
"Get out there quick," he had said.
He had even volunteered to guide Owen to the Coptic Place of the Dead. Since Nikos was normally reluctant to take a single step outside his office, Owen had been impressed. Even so, if Georgiades had been around he might have sent him. Georgiades, however, was out on an errand of his own, or possibly still in bed. In any case, Nikos made it clear that he would not have approved.
"This is something for the Mamur Zapt," he said.
The Mamur Zapt was the head of Cairo's Political CID. Responsible in theory directly to Egypt's ruler, the Khedive, he answered in practice only to the British Consul-General, the man who, since Britain had charge of Egypt's purse strings, effectively controlled Egypt. The Consul-General, however, had taken pains not to define the Mamur Zapt's role too closely, observing that the less he knew of the Mamur Zapt's activities the more effective he was likely to be.
There were certain ground rules, however, and one of them was that the Mamur Zapt did not concern himself with routine police matters. Which he considered this to be.
"Police?" said Nikos, as if he couldhardly believe his ears. "What good would they be?"
Owen had to admit there was something in this. The Cairo police force was recruited from country districts and consisted for the most part therefore of simple fellahin, or peasants, illiterate, underpaid and, when they got to the city, usually quite lost. Their duties tended to be restricted largely to the regulation of traffic, which, since the latter consisted chiefly of donkeys and camels, was in Nikos's view entirely appropriate. All real criminal investigation was left to the Parquet, the French-style Department of Prosecutions of the Ministry of Justice.
"The Parquet, then?" suggested Owen hopefully.
"The Mamur Zapt," said Nikos definitely, and put on his tarboosh and walked out of the door.
Owen put on his tarboosh too. Although he was still, strictly speaking, an army officer and merely on secondment, he considered himself now to be a civilian and preferred to dress in mufti. A tarboosh, the pot-like hat with a tassel which was the normal headgear of the educated Egyptian, was far less conspicuous than a sun helmet, especially of the heavy military sort. It was also cooler.
Not that that mattered too much this early in the morning. Later, when the sun was high in the sky and the temperature rose into the nineties, every little thing counted. Even the nature of your hat. At the moment, though, with the sun not long up over the horizon, the day was still pleasantly fresh and cool.
Owen borrowed a couple of constables from the orderly room at the front of the building and set out after Nikos.
They went on foot since their way lay through the mediaeval city, where the streets were too narrow and congested for a carriage to pass. This early in the morning the streets were not, in fact, very crowded. Almost the only people they saw were the black-gowned women drawing water for the day from the street pumps, but by the time they reached the Coptic Place of the Dead there were a lot more people around, and when Owen looked behind him he found that Nikos was not the only guide. From somewhere or other they had acquired a sizeable following of small boys and old men and others who might have been on their way to work if something more interesting had not come along.
Without assistance, although not necessarily on such a scale, Owen would never have found the house of Andrus, for it was set back from the ordinary thoroughfares of the necropolis and masked on all sides but one by huge family tombs. Once it came in sight, however, there was no mistaking it. A large crowd, mostly in the traditional dark gowns and dark turbans of the Copts, had already gathered around its front entrance. As Owen approached, the crowd parted and a man came up to him.
"This is an outrage!" the man said.
"An unfortunate incident, certainly," said Owen smoothly. Nikos had been able to brief him on the way.
"More than that," said the Copt, "much, much more than that."
"Don't let your distress-"
"They are trying to provoke us," the man cut in.
As soon as he had spoken, he could have cursed himself. For he knew what the answer would be.
"The Moslems," said the man. "The Moslems. They are behind this."
It was important to stifle such ideas at birth. Cairo was an excitable city.
"Who else would have done it?"
"Yes. For a joke."
"You call this a joke?"
"No. I say only that it is the sort of thing children would do as a joke."
"We know who did it," said someone in the crowd, "and it wasn't children."
"Nor was it a joke," said the man who had spoken first. "It was done to provoke us."
"So you say."
"So I know," the man retorted.
"How do you know?"
"This is not a thing in itself. It is part of a pattern."
"There have been other things?"
"Attacks on Copts in the streets. Women jostled on their way to church. Our priests spat on, children stoned."
"These are all bad things," said Owen, "but that is not enough to make a pattern."
"What more do you want?" asked the man. "Someone killed?"
"In a pattern," said Owen, "there is design."
"There is design here. Do you think these things happen by chance?"
"Women have always been jostled. Boys have always thrown stones."
"But not like this," said the man. "Our women dare not go out. We keep our children at home."
"There have been many such incidents?"
"Every day and increasingly."
"In one part of the city or in all?"
"At the moment," said the man, "in one part of the city only." "And that is?"
"We are from the Mar Girgis," said the man. The Church of St. George, in the old part of the city, Owen thought. He had walked past it on his way to the cemetery.
"It is around there, is it?"
He became aware that the man was watching him closely.
"If you do not do something about it," the man said, "we shall."
The crowd went quiet. Owen suddenly noticed how much it had grown. It must be over two hundred. And with that realization came another. Not all of them were Copts.
"We have endured too much too long," the man said. "It is time to make an end of it."
"That is not for you," said Owen coldly. "It is for the Mamur Zapt."
This was ridiculous. To flare up over a thing as trivial as this! But he knew that was how things did catch fire in Cairo, and also that once started the fires were hard to put out.
"I will do something about it," he said.
"Do so!" said the man. "And do it quickly. For we will not wait."
The Mamur Zapt did not reckon to take this kind of talk from anyone, and he looked round for the police. But there were only two of them, huddled uneasily behind him. For the moment he could do nothing.
But he would have to do something. He couldn't leave the crowd like this. For the moment, the man seemed to have them in hand, but he could as easily incite as restrain. And if he did so, what would become of the Moslems present? There were only a few of them compared to the Copts. And what the hell were they doing here, anyway? You'd think they'd have enough sense to get out, fast.
He knew what they were doing. Watching the drama, like all Cairenes.
The thing to do was get this out of the public forum, get the drama off the streets.
He turned to the man who appeared to be the leader.
"There is no reason why you should wait," he said to him. "I am ready to hear what you have to say. Only not here. Can we go into the house?"
"Of course!" said the man.
He stepped aside and made a gesture of invitation.
"It is the house of Andrus," said Owen. "Where is Andrus?"
"I am Andrus," the man said.
The crowd opened and they walked through.
As he pushed past, someone in the crowd cried out. Owen looked up quickly but it was only an idiot, and he was a Copt, anyway. His head sagged to one side and his lips drooled. He called out again and this time Owen heard what he said.
"A death for a death!"
Owen turned in a flash, caught hold of him and threw him to one of the constables.
"Take him away, for Christ's sake," he said.
The constable's hands closed round the idiot as round a rabbit. As the boy was borne away he cried out once more: "A death for a death!"
"The boy is crazed," Owen said to those round about him. "To talk of such things when the only death in the affair is that of a dog!"
"So far," said Andrus.
* * *
Owen had hoped to disperse the crowd by going inside, but it didn't work. They followed him into the house. Cairenes had no sense of privacy, and they all wanted to know what was going to happen next. Owen was used to the publicness of Egyptian life and didn't really mind, especially now that the tension seemed to have eased, though he would have preferred fewer bodies in the room.
The room occupied the whole ground floor of the house. It wasn't a proper house but one used exclusively for visiting the dead. Coptic religious practice required attendance at the cemetery on specified nights of the year to remember and honour the dead, and many of the wealthier Copts kept "houses" in the cemetery just for that purpose. Like most such houses, this one consisted of two storeys, although the ground-floor room, a large room rather like a council chamber, was carried through in the middle of the house into the floor above. At this point a heavily ornamented balustrade ran round it creating a narrow promenade from which arches gave onto the apartments beyond. The upper floor was reserved for the women. As Owen made his way across the ground-floor room he was conscious of veiled, dark-gowned figures peeping down at him discreetly from behind the arches. The lower room had, as was common in well-to-do Egyptian houses, a sunken floor, at one end of which was a raised dais with leather cushions. This was where Owen was taken.
As he sat down, people pressed round him. A turbanned head craned intimately over his left shoulder, and as he slightly adjusted his position he found himself rubbing bristly cheeks with another head which was inserting itself on his right-hand side. The lower room was now so packed that people had opened the shutters in order to lean through the windows. All were entirely engrossed.
Andrus had sat down on the cushion opposite him. He was a thin, severe man in his late fifties with a gaunt face and prominent eye-sockets. His eyes looked very tired, which was not surprising if, as Owen supposed, he had spent the whole night at his prayers.
"Well, Andrus," he said, "let us begin. And let us begin with what happened last night. Speak to me as one who knows nothing."
Andrus paused to glance round the ring of onlookers, as if to make sure they were all attending.
"We came here to pass the night of the Eed el-Gheetas," he said, "as we usually do. You are aware of our custom, Captain Owen?"
Owen registered, as he was intended to, the correct use of his name and rank.
"We come here on feast days and also on some other occasions to honour our dead. I was especially anxious to come on this occasion as it is the anniversary of my father's death. He died four years ago. We spend the night in the house-"
"Not in the tomb?"
"Not in the tomb, no. We go there in the morning. First we have to prepare ourselves. We do that by keeping vigil."
"All through the night?"
"All through the night. We start at dusk."
"Did you go straight to the house? When you arrived, I mean? Or did you visit the tomb?"
"The others went to the house." There was a touch of disapproval in the words. "I went to the tomb."
"And you saw nothing untoward?"
"Not at the tomb, no."
"Or anywhere else?"
"There are always Moslems about in the necropolis nowadays," said Andrus coldly.
"But they weren't doing anything untoward?"
"No," said Andrus, with the air of one making a concession.
"How long did you stay at the tomb?"
"Not long. I paid my respects and then went on to the house."
"Where you stayed all night?"
"And again you saw and heard nothing untoward?"
"We were praying," said Andrus tartly.
"Of course. But you might have-"
"We did not."
Ordinarily, Owen would have probed but there was an impatient finality about the words. He moved Andrus on.
"Then in the morning-?"
"We went to the tomb."
"Where you found-?"
Andrus made a gesture of disgust as if he could hardly bring himself to speak of it.
"Where you found-?" Owen prompted again.
"A dog!" Andrus spat out. "At the very door of my father's tomb!"
He glared round dramatically. Totally involved, the crowd gave a sympathetic gasp.
"I feel for you," said Owen tactfully. "I feel for you. But ..." He hesitated and chose his words with care. "Is there not a possibility-I ask only to make sure-that the dog came there by accident?"
"Accident?" said Andrus incredulously.
"There are lots of dogs in the cemetery," said Owen, "and some of them are old and sick. Might not one of them, knowing that its time to die had come-"
"Have dragged itself across the graveyard until by chance it arrived at my father's tomb?"
"-and then, with its last breath, climbed up a flight of six steep steps and forced open the heavy door that was barred against it? Pah."
Andrus made a gesture of decision. The crowd laughed scornfully.
"First, it was a joke. Now it is a fairy tale."
Owen went patiently on.
"The door was barred?"
"I unlocked it the night before when I came first to the tomb."
"But left it barred? Are you sure?"
"Surer of that," said Andrus, with a sidelong glance at the crowd, "than that the dog lifted the bar itself."
The crowd laughed with him.
"The point is important," Owen insisted. "If the door were open, the dog could have come there itself."
"It was brought," said Andrus, "by other dogs. Moslem ones."
"Where did you find the dog? Inside the tomb?"
"In the doorway. Half inside, half out."
"Quite dead," said Andrus.
"You say it was Moslems."
"I know it was Moslems."
"Did anyone see them?"
Andrus hesitated. "No one has said so."
"I will ask. And I will ask more widely. It may be that someone saw them bring the dog into the cemetery."
"There are dogs in the cemetery enough."
Owen shrugged. "I will check, anyway. I will also ask those in your house."
"I speak for them."
"It may be that one of them heard something or saw something that you did not."
Now it was Andrus who shrugged his shoulders.
"It may be that no one saw anything or heard anything. They came like thieves in the night."
"It is important, however, to check. Then we might establish whether it was indeed Moslems."
"Who else could it have been?"
"Copts. Have you any enemies?"
"Only Moslems," said Andrus.
He seemed stuck on this. Owen could not tell whether it was some personal bitterness or whether it was the general bitterness which he knew Copts felt for Moslems. If it was the latter, he was surprised at its intensity. If that was widely shared, then it was worrying. There was the possibility of a major explosion. And any little spark could set it going.
Even the death of a dog.
He understood now why Nikos had been so insistent that he come.
* * *
"And what the hell were you doing while all this was going on?" asked Georgiades.
"I am in the office," Nikos said with dignity. "I leave the other stuff to you."
He paused impressively, looked through the sheaf of papers he was holding in his hand, pulled one out and laid it on the desk in front of Owen.
"All I can find out about Andrus," he said.
Owen glanced at it, but then looked back at Nikos.
"Tell me," he said. It would be sensible for Georgiades to hear.
"A zealot," said Nikos.
"Not in your sense, no," said Nikos coldly. He was himself a Copt. "Just very religious. You would consider excessively so."
Nikos liked to get things exactly right.
"But not politically active?"
"No known Nationalist connections, if that's what you're asking."
Excerpted from The Night of the Dog by Michael Pearce Copyright © 1989 by Michael Pearce
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Requirements to love the books in this series: you got to love historical mysteries and be amused by murky politics. The books are short, so you must also enjoy reading slowly. It is not like action flicks you can read in half an hour: you got to pay attention. Here is the context of this mystery series. No country has politics as hard to understand as,Egypt between 1900 and 1914. The Khedive was an Egyptian Vice-Roy, entirely dependent of the British occupant while the country was still officially under nominal Turkish control. The British were there of course to control Suez. The French retained a large influence, since Napoleon time, principally in legal matters. Every politician was trying to take advantage of the conflicts between Copts (Egyptian Christians) and Muslims. But what dominates the times is corruption at every level of society. The author, Michael Pearce is extremely at ease with all this complexity and plays it by discrete touches: it is a delight to read. The hero is the chief of police for political matters and he is Welsh, honest, and very smart. What is astonishing is that you read this as the memoirs of an insider of the time. We go from a dead dog to the nomination of a Copt minister following very thin political threads. If you are willing, this is a real delight.