Book review: The Father Of Locks

The Father Of Locks The Father Of Locks by Andrew Killeen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another day, another Orientalist mystery! Andrew Killeen’s book is almost custom-made for the Dedalus imprint, in its exploration of lugubrious living and the nuances of history. Set in Baghdad (largely) around 800AD, this is a very descriptive tale of poetry, rivalry and rooting with its roots in reality. Most of the characters existed, and a glossary at the end of the book provides potted histories of those mentioned.

The problem with this book is – like The One Thousand and One Nights which Killeen claims inspires him – its labyrinthine nature. The plot itself is pretty simple, really: it’s a detective story with the titular Father of Locks (Abu Nuwas, an historical poet who – here, at least – proves Byron and Shelley didn’t have the only dibs on dissolute living) and his narrator-cum-sidekick Ismail attempting to solve murders and mysteries. Except the plot is often shuffled off to the side for a round of storytelling and romance – affairs of the zabb, at least, as Killeen coyly styles the multiple penile peregrinations of the piece.

Being dazzled is possibly a desirable outcome in reading. It’s just a shame that here it seemed to occur in spite of the plot, rather than because of it. There’s a wealth of material here, and the roundabout way of returning – eventually – to the main whodunnit of the piece could be seen as a sterling example of the storyteller’s art in full flight. Except rather than provide a broader view of the land, these continual turns seem to diminish the action.

Abu Nuwas is very much a lovable rogue, but the book – curiously, for all its research – seems to leave the tale-telling to go off half-cocked. It’s a shame, as there’s some excellent characterisation which the book seems desperate to keep just out of reach of the reader. There’s a real sense of muddled-headedness which becomes tiring.

Consider this a visit to the souk: you probably won’t understand a lot of what’s going on, and the sensual nature is wonderful – but just keep an eye on where you’re going, or you’ll be completely lost.

View all my reviews

Say something

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s