An enigma, wrapped in a riddle, entwined with a mystery… – “The Cairo Diary” by Maxime Chattam

August 19, 2013 at 5:40 pm 2 comments

Cover of "The Cairo Diary"

Cover of The Cairo Diary

The Cairo Diaryby Maxime Chattam, Published in 2007

There is something to be said for an author starting his book with a note to the reader.  In this book, Chattam starts by suggesting what music would fit well with the reading of this book. It is a great idea and I liked this connection with the author immediately.  And this book was alright. It is a suspense novel and there is suspense for sure. Unfortunately, while Chattam’s musical accompaniment is a nice suggestion, the book doesn’t need music, it needs an ending.

The French government owns the monastery at Mont-Saint-Michele (or at least according to this book it does).  They allow monks and nuns to live and care for the monastery and in exchange the government will occasionally drop off a French citizen who needs to disappear for a while.  No questions asked.

In the winter of 2005, Marion becomes a witness to some kind of government cover-up.  For her own protection, and after an assault which resulted in a split-lip, Marion is whisked away by secret police to stay at Mont-Saint-Michele until the scandal is over and she is again safe to return to her life in Paris. Marion finds her new life a bit quiet but on a trip to an old library in a neighboring town Marion finds an old copy of an unfinished Edgar Allen Poe novel.  However, when she opens it she finds that the book has been cut from the binding and hidden inside is a diary written in 1928 by a Jeremy Matheson.   Matheson was a British police officer stationed in Cairo.  In the year that he wrote the diary, he began investigating the murders of several young children.  All children were lured into a quiet part of bustling city and gruesomely mutilated.

Of course, Marion is immediately intrigued by the story and inexplicably steals the book from the library.  As she reads the diary things begin to happen – mysterious notes are left for her, a hooded man seems to be following her and, she can’t be sure, but it appears that someone has searched her rooms.  All of this eventually leads to who the killer is in 1928 and how this story connects to Marion’s life.

Without giving away too much, the ending is rough.  Chattam seems to think that the best suspense is in the “gotcha” moments and he uses them a lot.  With all of the twists and turns you can’t help but feel like you have a terrible case of whiplash.  I am afraid the simple questions of who? where? with what? is not a simple Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the candlestick.  But instead it is a “maybe, sort of, but wait there’s more…just kidding” kind of mess.  Don’t get me wrong, complicated is okay if there is a reason for it.  But straight-forward and simple can also be an author’s best tool.

I have no doubt that Chattam is smart, his writing is good, but if he could entertain the reader without exasperating them that would be good too.  Please note,  I won’t hold any of this against Mont-Saint-Michele and anytime the French secret police want me to stay there for free I am all in.

Entry filed under: August 2013 reads. Tags: , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Melinda  |  August 26, 2013 at 8:36 am

    Sounds like an interesting read.

    • 2. Emily C  |  August 26, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      Definitely interesting in parts. The story is a great idea.


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