A Dead Man in Tangier

A Dead Man in Tangier by Michael Pearce. On the surface Sandor Seymour of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch shares many similarities with Pearce’s other well-known hero, Gareth Owen. Both are courageous, intelligent men, who, as sympathetic representatives of imperialistic Britain operating on foreign soil in the 1910s, recognize the importance of patience and the art of listening when trying to gather information from the local population in order to solve the crimes they are investigating. These crimes usually have both personal and political implications and both men have the ability to accurately discern the truth from amongst the rumors, innuendo, and gossip. However, there are significant differences as well. Owen, who as the Mamur Zapt is the Head of the Khedive’s Secret Police in Cairo, has vast local knowledge and contacts due his having been stationed in Egypt for several years, whereas Seymour must acclimate himself anew each time he starts a case, whether it be in Turkey, the Balkans, or Morocco. He also lacks the support staff the Mamur Zapt has available to him, though his ability with languages, which got him the position with Special Branch in the first place, enables him to ingratiate himself with the locals. On a personal level, Seymour’s status as a single, unattached gentleman allows him to pursue romantic encounters at each of his assignments.

Following his adventures in Istanbul, Trieste, and Athens, Seymour now finds himself in Tangier, just across the Straight of Gibraltar from Spain and another location filled with cultural diversity and a history of conflict. Despite a rising nationalist movement and the ruling Sultan, the French have just established a Protectorate of the country, but the city itself is a free state run by a committee with members of all the major powers. The committee’s clerk, Monsieur Bossu, was put in place to see that the interests of the country’s power brokers, both native and foreign, were maintained. However, Bossu was found dead, stabbed by a lance after a local pig-sticking hunt. Bossu has a long history as a “fixer” for the industrialists and his activities have created many enemies. Seymour is brought in because the committee’s chairman is the British Consul and all the members agree that an independent investigation is needed. He makes the rounds of everyone associated with Bossu, including his wife and mistress, his business associates, and all those involved in the pig-sticking venture. He is accompanied by Mustapha and Idris, two locals who have attached themselves as bodyguards as a “matter of honor” due to Seymour intervening in a small dispute outside his hotel. Their ability to convince the locals to speak with the foreign investigator proves invaluable to Seymour.

Pearce’s light, conversational writing style, which failed in his Russian series, manages to work quite well however in the sands and streets of Morocco and this second series is a fine complement to his Egyptian adventures.

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