The Mouth of the Crocodile: A Mamur Zapt Mystery Set in Pre-World War I Egypt

Written by Michael Pearce
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1913 in Atbara, Sudan, a railway worker drowns in the Nile. An English lad, Jamie, cries murder but is ignored. The plot thickens when Owen, the Mamur Zapt (Secret Police Chief), arrives to escort a Pasha to Cairo. The Pasha, returning from a conference in Khartoum, is fearful for his life. He hides, even from Owen, some secret documents in his briefcase. Jamie also joins Owen and the Pasha, as well as his entourage, on the train to Cairo, but it gets bogged down following a fierce sandstorm. While the passengers swelter in the intense heat and endure dwindling supplies, awaiting the relief engine, Jamie befriends two teenage Arab girls. Owen fears an attack by the natives, one possibly motivated by an anti-British conspiracy.

This, Michael Pearce’s latest series novel, follows his usual formula: portraying everyday life vividly in 1900s colonial Egypt and Sudan; introducing a murder mystery that is resolved by the Mamur Zapt; and adding perceptive sociopolitical conflicts and the locals’ attitudes towards the British into the narrative. What makes this one somewhat different and adds another dimension is the inclusion of the storyline featuring the three teens, which exposes the struggles of local women. These aspects will keep the readers entertained and engaged.