From Publishers Weekly
This sophisticated, first-rate mystery novel/political thriller takes place in Cairo, Egypt. It alternates points of view and shifts time frames to create an outstanding narrative with nail-biting suspense. Yet, it is much more than a clear-cut thriller. It offers a penetrating account of Egyptian culture, the role of women in society, and the profundity of love. The story begins in 1940. Haran Issawi, chief advisor to King Faruk, discusses with his top security men newly discovered intelligence of an assassination plot against him to be carried out by the Group of the X, a proletarian nationalist organization that seeks to overthrow the Egyptian government. Meanwhile, Aimee Ibrahim, the young and alluring widow of Azi Ibrahim, an academician who was mysteriously murdered, is asked to come to the university where Azi taught to collect his belongings. A parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied with string entices Aimee. She opens it and discovers her mother's diary, written 20 years ago. Aimee never knew her mother, Hezba Sultan, who was born into royalty as the only daughter of Ali Sultan Pasha. Now, with this relic of Hezba's past in Aimee's possession, she speculates about what secrets it may reveal. Aimee also wonders why Azi had Hezba's journal and why it was hidden at his office. Aimee is invited to the launch party of a poetry book written by the university's up-and-coming literary talents where she meets Farouk, who is the editor of the Cairo newspaper, The Liberation, and, unbeknownst to Aimee, one of the notorious "ringleaders" in the Group of X. Even though the encounter irritated Aimee -- she didn't like the way Farouk stared at her -- she couldn't stop thinking about him after their goodbyes. Farouk, too, was enchanted. Their friendship blossoms, yet can they trust one another? Hezba's flawless diary entries are incorporated into the novel, and they welcome readers into the fascinating yet brutal world of Egyptian harem life in the early 20th century. Hezba's writings tell of her nature as a defiant, impatient and desperately unhappy woman who seeks freedom beyond the strictures of the palace and the societal limitations placed on women. Circumcised at age five and married at age 11 to 50-year-old Khalil al-Shezira in a political maneuver arranged by her father, Hezba's joy is her secret love affair with Anton Alexandre, a member of the Rebel Corp which is agitating for revolution against the British occupation of Egypt. Hezba aligns herself with Alexandre's rebel activity, and, as the novel switches back and forth in time, it becomes increasingly intriguing how crucial Hezba's journal is to the unfolding of events in 1940. This is a novel that keeps readers guessing -- presumed allegiances are not always what they seem to be when bombs explode and characters are killed and truths are revealed. This is an excellent, well-written, and forceful work of fiction.
Egyptian-history buffs will love this complex story, set in 1940 Cairo, of love, betrayal, and political machinations. A young professor is murdered, and his wife, Aimee, is determined to find out why. Upon cleaning out her husband’s desk at the university, she finds her mother’s diary. Aimee never knew her mother and can’t understand why her husband had the diary. Aimee’s mother, we learn, as the story moves back and forth between the 1940 murder and 1919, the period covered in the diary, was the daughter of Egyptian royalty, forced into an arranged marriage when she was 11 years old. Meanwhile, in the present, there is a political uprising planned to overthrow King Faruk, and spies are everywhere. Both mother and daughter experience violence and political unrest in their lives, as well as love, and their intertwining stories make fascinating reading. Fans of Elizabeth Peters and Wilbur Smith will find much to enjoy here. This novel won the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in the Mystery/Thriller category.