The murder of an imperious North African noblewoman upsets the marriage plans of her nephew, who becomes the prime suspect. After Chief of Detectives Felix Abrinsky is called to an affluent home in Isk (El Iskandriya), Egypt, to examine the body of a recently murdered society matron, the story flashes back to the events that led up to the murder.
Young Ashraf Bey ('Raf') is united for the first time with his wealthy aunt, Lady Nafisa, who helped get him out of Huntsville, an American prison, where he went under the name of ZeeZee. (Alter ego or alternate reality? You decide.) Though Raf maintains that he worked as an attache, italicized chapters from ZeeZee`s perspective paint a darker existence in Seattle.
Indeed, many of the characters have damaging secrets, including Abrinsky, who was fired from the LAPD. Raf is on his way to an arranged marriage to the beautiful and outspoken Zara when Nafisa deems Zara unsuitable for her jailbird nephew. Shortly thereafter, Nafisa is stabbed to death with her own pen. The suspicion cast on Raf is particularly dangerous for him because the higher his profile, the more vulnerable he is to his felonious former associates. Resourceful Raf determines to solve the crime himself.
In this first American installment of a trilogy published in England beginning in 2001, Grimwood (reMix, 1999, etc.) wraps gritty realism in layers of suspicion and suggestion (is Isk itself fantasy?), creating an antihero as unpredictable as Tom Ripley.