|Michael Pearce: The Camel of Destruction|
Pen Press (Hardcover), ISBN 1-59058-024-9
Wrong. Try Cairo, 1910, during the heyday of British rule.
A land boom spurred by unsound fiscal lending policies threatens to plunge Egypt into economic chaos. Dwindling prospects leave banks beleaguered and borrowers of all social strata in deep financial trouble. Then a seemingly inconsequential civil servant mysteriously dies at his desk.
Enter one Captain Gareth Owen, an Englishman serving as head of Cairo's secret police, the organization ultimately responsible for enforcing law and order. When rules -- obvious or otherwise -- are flouted, he steps into action. Sometimes he seems to step sideways to navigate the political and religious complexities flung in his path.
Owen's Egyptian associates call these complexities "the Camel of Destruction." According to the ancient axiom, a crazed camel rampaging through nomads' tents obliterates everything in its path. Owen grudgingly concedes the analogy's aptness even as he girds himself to confront the "camel" in hopes of averting disaster.
In spite of my affinity for books set in Egypt, Pearce's balanced handling of sensitive religious issues and the engaging, Columbo-like personality of the protagonist, I found my reading experience disrupted by several flaws.
"Talking heads" leaps to mind as a label for the book's predominant storytelling style -- vast quantities of dialogue, sometimes with no clear indication of who is speaking, interspersed with tiny oases of descriptive text. Without a single sphinx or pyramid in sight, it becomes too easy to forget that the plot transpires in the cradle of one of the most fascinating cultures on earth.
If you want a high-paced thriller, look elsewhere. The only action even remotely approaching edge-of-the-seat level involves a mob scene. And the resolution of the dire economic situation comes across as being childishly simple, given all the political and religious convolutions engaged up to that point.
The Camel of Destruction offers an intriguing premise but falls far short of delivering the goods. My advice: check out a library copy or save your moulah for the paperback edition.
Kim D. Headlee
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