Author: Andrew Killeen, 2009.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Spy Fiction. GLBT characters.
Other Details: Paperback. 332 pages.
Ismail is a thief who dreams of being a poet. He is drawn to Baghdad, the capital of the world, and on its turbulent streets falls in with the notorious poet Abu Nuwas: the Father of Locks. Ismail’s new master is not only a decadent drunkard, but also a reluctant agent of the scheming Wazir, who now assigns them to investigate reports that the Devil is stalking the city. Together the poet and the thief encounter a hidden world, of forbidden cults, foreign spies, and a mysterious Brass Bottle. When children start to disappear, it seems that there must be substance to the dark rumours of evil spirits and human sacrifice that haunt the city; but the secrets that Ismail and the Father of Locks uncover are more shocking still. - synopsis from author's website.
Last year Andrew Killeen gave a talk at our local library and I quickly fell under the spell of his story-telling skills. As with The Khalifah’s Mirror (2013 Book 196), this is structured as stories within stories in the fashion of The Thousand and One Nights though without fantasy elements. In this début novel by Killeen there is more of the back story of its narrator, Ismail al-Rawiya, who had been born in Cornwall but kidnapped by pirates as a boy and sold into slavery. There is also a much appreciated listing of historical characters at the back that I accessed often.
I enjoyed this very much and feel that Andrew is one of those rare story-tellers who can with a few words conjure a world in all its aspects and transport me there.
The cover art of this novel deserves comment. During his talk I had some discussion with Andrew on the subject of Orientalism, an academic term that refers in part to the romanticism found in certain 19th Century art featuring Middle Eastern subjects. Andrew was well versed in the issues and shared that he had requested that his publisher not use an Orientalist image for the cover. However, this request wasn't heeded or had been misunderstood. As a result the novel ended up with a cover utilising 'Summary Execution under the Moorish Kings of Grenada' (1870), a painting by Henri Regnault, a leading French Orientalist.