Book Review: A Cold Touch of Ice by Michael Pearce

A Cold Touch of IceA Cold Touch of Ice
A Mamur Zapt Mystery
Michael Pearce
Poisoned Pen Press, July 2004
ISBN: 1-59058-065-6

Michael Pearce is an unqualified success, if you like good characterizations, an exotic locale and a satisfying mystery that illuminates real history from the early part of the twentieth century.

Gareth Owen is the head of the secret service in Egypt. He is called the Mamur Zapt. It is an interesting position, in that he works for the Khedive, the ruler of Egypt. But he is British, because at the time of the novel, 1912, Egypt is a British protectorate. The Brits are in no way about to allow Egyptian police free rein to poke about in private affairs. Owen is an interesting character, urbane, very focused on Cairo, and not much on things like the desert and rural Egypt. Well, he has enough to do, it seems, Cairo being a central gathering place for agents and counter-agents of every stripe.

It is 1912 and Lord Kitchener has come to Egypt to assume the ruling hand. There are many tensions in the air, because, although America was blissfully unaware , war clouds were gathering and already attempts are being made to implant a German nation inside the Egyptian government. The Turks are at war with the Italians, increasing the pressure and destabilizing the normal tensions of the place. Then an Italian businessman, a long-time resident of Cairo, is murdered. Normally such an event is not in the Mamur Zapt’s purvue, but he is naturally acquainted with the local government authorities. When it becomes likely that the fighting in Tripolitania is somehow related to the murder, Owen is drawn in. More complications arise of both a professional and personal nature.

There is a wedding, there are disagreements within and without Owen’s personal life and we are made privy to some eternal prejudices which affect Owen and his colleagues. Yet there are no polemics here. The author’s matter-of-fact straightforward style draws us in and maintains the interest and the tension without resorting to devices like car chases and shootouts.

Pearce is a master at bringing to vibrant life in subtle and direct ways the life of turbulent Cairo from its high governmental maneuverings to common, everyday events. In the intense heat and dust of the city and the important camel caravan oases, Owen walks a slow steady path to motive and resolution. This is a fine police procedural with many excellent nuances.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.