Michael Pearce’s Mamur Zapt series is one of my top five favorite mystery series. I love Pearce’s dry humor, and I’m a huge Egyptophile, so I enjoy the settings in Cairo and its environs. And Pearce, who was born in the early 1930s and raised in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, nails the historical background, complete with the myriad of competing factions and nationalities in 1900s Egypt.
Pearce’s protagonist, Garth Owen, sits uneasily between the British “shadow administration”, to which he more-or-less belongs (although he often makes it clear that he is Welch, not English); and the Egyptian Khedive, for whom he officially works as the Mamur Zapt, the head of the Khedive’s Secret Police. And, just to complicate things a bit more, since Egypt itself is nominally part of the Ottoman empire, the Khedive himself theoretically owes allegiance to the Sultan in Istanbul. Owen is a delightful character who has a deft and amusing touch with everyone from local fellahin to Pashas and the British Consul-General, and of course, manages to solve a few mysteries along the way. And his Egyptian girlfriend, Zeinab, the more-modern-than-usual daughter of a Pasha, is even more of a treat. The Mamur Zapt books are books I have to read (and re-read) alone, because I’m likely to laugh out loud without warning from time to time.