by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Review by Lavie Tidhar
Spectra Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0553587447
Date: 30 August, 2005 List Price $12.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In the second book of the Arabesk trilogy, set in an alternate city of Alexandria in the heart of an Ottoman Empire that never fell, we find the confused Ashraf Bey now Chief of Detectives and with a series of murders to solve. Murders which involve the woman he didn't marry, planned marriage or not, despite the fact, or because of, they're uncomfortably in love. The first question I like a review to answer is whether or not a book is worth reading, and in this case it's a resounding yes. If you missed the first book, Pashazade, you should start there for the back story...and the adventure. This series was originally published in the UK in 2002, and we're only now getting a chance to enjoy them. Lavie's review is reposted from the original printing. - Ern
Effendi is the second novel in Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Arabesk trilogy - a series centering around the free city of El
Iskandryia on the shores of North Africa. We may relate to the city
better as Alexandria (indeed, my word-processor is quite happy with
that name, yet throws a tantrum at the original spelling!) and prefer to
think of it as part of that political entity called Egypt - but at the
risk of mixing metaphors, "we're not in Kansas anymore"! The
Arabesk is very much an alternate history, portraying a world
where the Ottoman and Prussian empires still exist, where Egypt is still
under the Sultan and still has a Khedive.
Here too Courtenay Grimwood draws heavily on cyberpunk traditions, with its fetishistic worship of gadgets, rapid-fire techno-speak and fascination with designer drugs. The famous wrap-around shades are a constant feature of the novel's central character, but this is an author who has come-of-age through the writing of these novels. Simply put, these books are so much fun that you may want to go out looking for Courtenay Grimwood, in order to corner him and force him to write more! The mixture of high-tech gadgetry and traditional middle-Eastern culture, the expert blending of murder mystery, cyberpunk and thriller, the superb characterization that makes you genuinely care about the people involved, all add to one of the best surprise publications of recent years. After being in the profession for some time (in paperback exile, as it were) Jon Courtenay Grimwood is finally set to become a bright new star, and reach the market share he so richly deserves.
For those of you who have not yet read Pashazade, it is the story of one Ashraf Bey - fugitive from US law (and the mafia!), a designer baby with some very special features, the supposed son of the Emir of Tunis oh, and he's in a lot of trouble. Arriving in the chaos of North Africa, Raf is set to marry the daughter of a rich industrialist and settle into a life of leisure - yet little things, like the murder of his aunt, keep cropping up. Soon he is busy playing the detective, dodging assassins, and having to take care of his young niece Hani. To say more would be to spoil the story, but Courtenay Grimwood's cast of superbly drawn characters, from Raf's fiancé Zara and her half-brother, Avatar, to the least significant slum-dwellers and lowlifes, all sparkle whilst playing their parts.
Effendi follows on soon after these events. The city is plunged into chaos, a serial killer is operating on the streets, and the influential Hamzah Effendi is being put on trial for mass murder. Weaving through this tale of 21st century El Iskandryia is the story of a boy-soldier, Ka, in the time of the Little War. Throughout, Courtenay Grimwood expertly combines excitement with serious social issues, examining the conflicts of the rich versus the poor world, the treatment of children, and life in an enclosed Islamic society. With Pashazade recently nominated for an Arthur C. Clarke award, Courtenay Grimwood is fast proving his "lit-cred" just as much as his "street-cred."
What more can I say? Fast, furious, fun and elegant, the Arabesk trilogy is one of the best things to hit the bookstores in a while. Get serious, get Jon Courtenay Grimwood!