NIGHT FALLS ON DAMASCUS
Frederick Highland

 


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Thomas Dunne Books, This edition published Dec 2006
Reviewed by Sunnie Gill

Crime Fiction

It is 1930. Nikolai Faroun, the son of a Lebanese Christian Maronite and a Russian circus performer, is an Inspector in the French-run Damascus police force. Life in Syria isn't easy. Appointed after the end of the First World War to prepare Syria for self-rule, the French are running the country and have no intention of leaving. This has created a great deal of tension and has divided the nation. The French regard the Syrians with contempt and the Syrians hate the French and despise anyone they see as supporting the regime. There are also the beginnings of civil unrest: rioting in the street and bombings.

The murdered body of Vera Tamiri is fished out of the Barada River. Vera is a member of a wealthy Syrian family who has traditionally had a great deal of power. Vera lives a somewhat Bohemian lifestyle; she smokes, drinks and has had numerous lovers. Vera has also been campaigning for women's rights. She has set up a clinic for women and has been preparing pamphlets on birth-control. Not exactly activities that are going to endear her to the more traditionally-minded members of the population.

When Nikolai sets out to find out the identity of the killer, he is hampered at every turn by interference from Vera's family wanting to keep her murder quiet and political interference from his boss and from the Surete. The French did no one any favours when they divided the police force into two branches: one branch to deal with civil crimes, the other to investigate political crimes. The fact that the Surete is meddling makes Nikolai realise there is far more behind Vera's murder than appearances would suggest.

Against the backdrop of civil unrest and political turmoil, author Frederick Highland paints a vivid picture of life on the knife-edge in 1930's Damascus. His descriptions of the city made me dash to my computer several times to look for images of places mentioned in the book. In Nikolai Faroun, Highland has created a character who has a great deal of baggage in his background, which is gradually revealed during the telling of the story. I have the feeling that there is much more to learn about Nikolai and I hope the author is planning a follow-up to NIGHT FALLS ON DAMASCUS. It seems to be crying out for more and so am I.

May 2007 review originally published on Murder & Mayhem

 

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