This compelling novel opens in the streets of Baghdad during April 2003 as American and coalition forces begin their occupation. Inspector Muhsin al-Khafaji wants only to avoid conflict, stay out of sight, enjoy poetry and take care of his family including his ailing daughter, Mrouj. Toward that end, Muhsin abandons his post only to be misidentified and imprisoned as the wrong Muhsin al-Khafaji by the Americans who fail to immediately rectify the mistake. Once they do owe up to jailing the wrong man, the Americans “recruit” Muhsin to head up the struggling new police force with the offer of proper medical treatment for Mrouj. Understandably, Muhsin is reluctant to be seen collaborating with the Americans and the Coalition Provisional Authority but he will do most anything for his daughter. While attempting to balance his most basic beliefs with the demands of a constantly shifting political climate, Muhsin is also trying to rescue his brother’s family and investigating a series of murders targeting female translators who were employed by the United States Army. When Muhsin could be seen from either side as aiding the enemy, nothing is simple or straightforward yet a love of poetry could provide a safe haven.
Firmly entrenched in politics, this thriller exposes the double-edged sword of relying too much on local intelligence as well as the difficulties faced by residents of an occupied city who simply want to survive. Although this is a fiction, Colla does an excellent job of portraying the muddled of state and personal agendas within the corrupt CPA and the part collaborators play in war where they are viewed as dispensable resources or betrayers. With all his flaws and problems, Muhsin’s character rings true to life as does much of the story which is packed with unexpected twists. This is an outstanding read on several levels so turn off the phone and enjoy.
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