So we find ourselves in an alternative 21st century, one where Germany won the First World War and the Ottoman Empire still exists. Ashraf Bey is the son of an American photographer and apparently the Emir of Tunis, though his mother always told him his Dad was a Swiss watchmaker or something. Anyhow, Raf is on the run from prison near Seattle where he was serving time for a murder he probably didn’t commit, and has been summoned to El Iskandryia (alternative world Alexandria) by an aunt he didn’t know existed, and is to be married off for money. For he is pashazade, a member of the aristocracy with a diplomatic passport and extremely eligible as a husband for the daughter of a man climbing his way up the social ladder.
But of course it doesn’t work out quite like that. His aunt is murdered, he is the prime suspect and of course that means he has to go on the run again, relying as much as he can on the help, reluctant or otherwise, of Felix (an expatriate American policeman), Zara (the woman whose hand in marriage he has rejected) and Hani (his nine year old niece). All while trying to identify both the killer and the motive and clear his own name.
I really enjoyed this, because it brings together two things I love – science fiction and crime – and does so very successfully. The sci-fi is quite light, the world of El Iskandryia is not so far away from our own that its unrecognisable, but still sufficiently different that you know we are in an alternative time-line. The mystery is well done; didn’t guess the murderer this time but you can’t win them all. It works because Raf himself is an ambivalent and attractive character and its easy to root for him. This is the first of a trilogy and I am looking forward to reading the sequels.