The Cairo Diary

Written by Maxim Chattam Susan Dyson (trans.)

The Cairo Diary is two mysteries for the price of one, a historical detective story embedded in a contemporary psychological thriller.

When Marion accidentally uncovers a scandal that rocks the whole of Paris, she is whisked away to the monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel for her own protection. There she stumbles across the diary of Jeremy Matheson, an English detective investigating a series of brutal child murders in Cairo in 1928. But, as Marion is sucked deeper into the past it seems someone on the peninsula is determined to retrieve the diary.

I found this novel atmospheric, conjuring up the windswept Mount, the opulence of the European ex-pat community in 1920s Egypt and the teeming, foetid alleys in which the murder victims live.

However, I was a little disappointed that, instead of writing Matheson’s diary in the first person, Chattam chose to use the same, slightly detached third person narrative as in the contemporary sections of the book. Much is made of the fact that Marion is hypnotised, almost seduced by Matheson’s use of language, and it would have been fascinating if the reader had been allowed to experience it too, particularly given the twist towards the end. A missed opportunity to create something outstanding.