Proving once again that Jon Courtenay Grimwood is a master of his genre, _Effendi_ is a sharp-witted, continually surprising novel. Of course, defining said genre is a little trickier. It's post-modern cyberpunk, perhaps, where the technology serves character and story rather than the other way around; it's also deeply politically-aware fiction viewing contemporary issues through a skewed future lens. The residual cyberpunk tech-fetishising feeds neatly into Grimwood's world - and particularly into his fascinating main character, the industrial-strength screw-up Ashraf Bey.
The setting is North Africa - predominantly the vibrant independent city of El Iskandryia - but it's North Africa located in an alternative-history world where the Ottoman empire made it into the 21st century. As in the trilogy's first novel, _Pashazade_, El Iskandryia is a triumph, all crumbling colonial relics, moral policing and seedy tourist nightclubs, French cafes and calls to prayer. It lives and breathes through the narrative with a personality all its own, an utterly convincing extrapolation of that region's cities today, an uneasy and volatile mixture of Western and Islamic influences and attitudes and needs.
Having set up the characters and their mysteries in the engaging near-future crime story of _Pashazade_, in _Effendi_ Grimwood takes his material to a whole new level. The dual timelines - of present-day Isk, and the brutal civil war a generation ago - are deployed with a near-perfect grasp of pace, tension-building and emotional resonance.
On the way to a climax that pulls no punches, we are also taken deeper into several of the main characters, particularly Zara and Raf - and while a few of the underlying mysteries are dealt with, what remains is more than intriguing enough to take this reader into the third (and final?) novel, _Felaheen_. Highly recommended.