A Dead Djinn in Cairo is like a bonbon. It’s perfect exactly as it is, but it leaves you wanting more, more, more. Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the interesting woman in the sharp suit, and we are dropped into her world with little fanfare.
In Clark’s Cairo of 1912, the British and the French tried to colonize Egypt, but the sudden arrival of magical creatures drove them out. Some 40 years earlier, a man named al-Jahiz opened a portal allowing all kinds of djinn, magic and angels into this world. The infusion of magic and magical beings brings it’s own set of issues, but even so, knowing actual history, I feel like the magic is kinder than colonialism.
The Special Investigator has been paired with an older policeman, Aasim, to investigate, as the title says, a dead djinn. Fatma makes Aasim uncomfortable because she is young, Sa’idi (Upper Egypt), and a woman.
Today she’d chosen a light gray suit, complete with a matching vest, chartreuse tie, and a red-on-white pinstriped shirt. She had picked it up in the English District, and had it specially tailored to fit her small frame. The accompanying walking cane—a sturdy length of black steel capped by a silver pommel, a lion’s head—was admittedly a bit much. But it added a flair of extravagance to the ensemble. And her father always said if people were going to stare, you should give them a show.
She is observant in the way of an outsider, not blinded by what should be there. Fatma finds an angel feather near the Djinn, which leads them, with some important stops, to a dead angel. Fatma does save the world and it feels like it’s just the start of her story.
It would be so easy to get lost in recounting the events of the story, because they are interesting. What really makes A Dead Djinn in Cairo stand out, though, is the world Clark has created. I particularly appreciated the way Clark plays with the idea of the exotic. Every reader brings there own lens to the story, and the lens I bring to early 20th century Cairo is shaped by reading a lot of British and American mysteries and romances that use Cairo as an exotic backdrop. For me there’s a built in sense of the foreign, on to which Clark has added magic. He introduces his reader to this world through the eyes of someone the locals see as exotic. Fatma’s European suits are layered and intentional, but you ought to read it for yourself.