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. (more…)