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Felaheen by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
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May 03, 2012

Set in Islamic North Africa, in a world where Germany won the First World War and the Ottoman Empire remains powerful well into the 21st century, “Felaheen” is the third installment of Grimwood’s “Arabesk” trilogy.

The story begins right after the events of “Effendi”. Ashraf, Former Chief of Detectives, former Governor of El Iskandriya, possible son of the Emir of Tunis, caretaker to his 11 year old genius niece Hani, living (but not sleeping) with the beautiful and wealthy Zara, finds himself at loose ends. Currently unemployed and still on his journey of self-discovery, he is approached by the director of security for his father the Emir. Eugenie de la Croix tries to enlist his help to protect the Emir from an assassination attempt. Raf goes undercover to discover not only who is behind the planned assassination, but also to obtain proof once and for all as to who he in fact is: the son of Emir Moncef al-Mansur, or the nameless Swedish hiker that his mother maintained fathered him.

Leaving a note for his precocious niece, Hani, he leaves her and Zara behind and takes off in pursuit of the truth but Hani tracks him down, putting herself and her cousin, the Emir’s youngest son, in the middle of a civil war.

These books, while forming a trilogy, are designed to be stand alone novels as well. As with the other two books, the present day story is interspersed with one from the past. This time, the story of Raf’s mother, Sally. But while these novels do form complete stories of their own, they are best read together as each one builds from the character and story-line development of the previous one. I, for one, am glad that I did read them that way. It took me till well into the second novel to really want these characters to figure certain things out and in “Felaheen,” I was not disappointed. But Grimwood doesn’t spoon feed his readers and one has to actually be engaged in the story in order to understand what’s going on.

Fortunately, that’s not hard to do. Grimwood seems to be at ease in the world of his creation and brings us into the sights and sounds and setting till we feel that we are there, right alongside his characters. By showing us the points of view of different characters, the story gets fleshed out in a unique way. I would love to see more books about these characters that I have come to enjoy reading about, especially the relationship between Ashraf and his niece Hani. The relationships in this novel are so complex and layered and difficult. Much like real life.

Not at all light reading, but enjoyable and rewarding. I would recommend the series.
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