Ashraf Farouk is a police lieutenant in Cairo. His job is to stop his countrymen fleecing the tourists, and he is good at it. He is also good at lining his own pockets.
Crime on his patch is a chaotic mix of ancient and modern: bogus moneychangers, rigged scales in the gold and silver shops, pickpockets and distraction thefts; but also drug dealing, pornography and the odd riot. Police equipment is state of the art - surveillance vans borrowed from the CIA (unfortunately not designed for the midday heat of Egypt); gas and rubber bullets for the riots. Farouk, though, prefers to crack heads with the unofficial teak truncheon he carries under his jacket.
Mark White's stories are exotic and original, and he skirts cleverly round the comic opera clichés of the casbah while still giving a sense of a shambolic post-colonial world. Labyrinthine laws are supported by mind-numbing bureaucracy. Police are corrupt and accountable to no-one but themselves. Farouk presides over his squad like Gene Hunt over the Life on Mars CID crew.
These are not short stories in the literary sense. More like well-told smoking room yarns: linear, event-driven and generally with a small twist at the end to round them off. The style too is unpretentious - smooth and literate, but lapsing occasionally into a jocular irony which I found mannered.
"When the supply of criminals dried up Farouk betook himself to that staple of police work: the persecution of motorists. Any suspect vehicle that fell under his eye was subjected to a thorough inspection, and the clerks at the local courts despaired at the sudden influx of paperwork that resulted."
Not quite satisfying, perhaps, as individual stories. Taken together, though, they build a compelling picture of a bewildering city, modern in some respects, in others a place of timeless savagery. Farouk scuttles though it like a malicious imp of mischief, ugly, lazy, incompetently dishonest and very appealing. It might be fun to have a drink with him. But after shaking hands you would be wise to count your fingers.