Snapshots of an unfamiliar part of the world

World Crime Atlas: the retirement project to read a crime novel set in every country listed in The Times atlas of the world.

Bahrain

The Mahboob Chaudri Mysteries, by Josh Pachter

The plot: The book contains ten short stories, which were written for American mystery magazines. Their brevity means that the plotting in each is of necessity brief.

Where and when: The stories were originally published in the early and mid 1980s, and gathered into a single volume by the author in 2015.

The Detective: Mahboob Ahmed Chaudri is a Pakistani working for the police force. We are introduced to him in the first story in the collection, The Dilmun Exchange, as a 28-year-old natoor (patrolman). In subsequent stories, the “small-framed Pakistani in the olive-green uniform of Bahrain’s Public Security Force” is promoted to the rank of mahsool (detective).

Sense of Place: The stories may be brief, and the plotting is sometimes slight, but they contain plenty of insights for the armchair traveller. The Dilmun Exchange opens on Bab-al-Bahrain Avenue, which we are told is the main street of the old shopping district of Manama, the capital (and only) city of Bahrain. In the course of the stories, Pachter introduces us to Jabel ad-Dukham (The Mountain of Smoke), the emirate’s highest point, from where on a clear day you can see the whole of the country, from al-Muharraq in the north to Ras al-Barr in the south. The concrete and glass towers of al-Khalifa Road, the centre of Manama’s business district, contrast vividly with the desert emptiness of the interior. This passage, from the story ASU, captures the energy and bustle of the city’s souk: “They watched grey-bearded tailors hand-stitch jet-black abbas, sitting cross-legged on the wooden floors of ‘shops’ barely three-feet wide and deep. They wandered down streets lined chockablock with gold merchants and tinsmiths and incense sellers and dealers in redolent herbs and spices. They passed open-air teahouses whose pale-blue benches were filled with grizzled old men puffing dreamily on tall glass water pipes. They saw beggar women swathed in black on every street corner and heard the babble of a dozen unfamiliar languages everywhere they turned.”

Worth reading? Certainly. There is not a lot of crime fiction set in Bahrain. This collection can be comfortably read in an afternoon, and will give snapshots of a country that many readers will be unfamiliar with.

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