The Cairo Diary
Translated from the French, this thriller alternates between present-day France and 1920s Cairo. Marion is whisked away to Mont-Saint-Michel by the French Secret Service after she stumbles into some intrigue. Needing something to occupy her, she begins reading a diary she discovered with some forgotten books belonging to the Mont’s brotherhood. Written by Jeremy Matheson, an English detective working in Cairo in 1928, it relates his investigation into a series of murders. Since most of the victims are children, these crimes horrify the city, the foreign press, and in the present day, compel Marion to read the diary to its conclusion. Meanwhile, disturbing notes and intrusions make it clear that someone living on the Mont considers the diary their property, and is attempting to prevent her from finishing it.
To say more would spoil the read for others, and it is a page-turning read, even though I worked out the two major plot twists before they were revealed (perhaps too much Agatha Christie when younger!). There are definite shades of Christie here: even a reference to her in the Cairo context. Chattam’s writing is atmospheric, particularly his descriptions of sultry Cairo and the stormy Mont. However, I did not find Marion a very sympathetic character, even though her life situation (thirty-something single career woman) might suggest otherwise. To me, she seemed cold and prickly, and fairly self-centered. I’m not sure whether to attribute this to the author’s characterization, cultural differences, a translation issue, or the tricky business of a male author depicting a female protagonist. Despite this lack of connection, the story stayed in my mind and did, as the jacket blurb suggests, leave me questioning my sense of “truth.”