A sudden bullet pierces the pungent dust that permeates Cairo. The victim is a bookkeeper called Fairclough; he has been shot at from behind while riding home on his donkey, though not badly hurt. Hardly cause for alarm, thinks Cadwallader Owen, better known as the Mamur Zapt, or head of Cairo's Secret Police. After all, Fairclough is with Customs. And in 1909 British-ruled Cairo, Customs is the lowest of all departments. But Owen's nonchalance is soon shattered as unexpected, bloody violence shakes Cairo's crowded bazaars and bustling thoroughfares. Then, scores of frightened British and Egyptian civil servants flood the police with complaints of pursuit by unknown men. Finally, on a dank back street, Owen himself is followed and nearly attacked by two shadowy characters in European dress. Is this a reign of terror to undermine British rule? Or is it a personal vendetta? The Mamur Zapt is determined to uncover the truth. It is a dangerous mission that will take him through Cairo's darkest alleys, into its loudest, bawdiest district, and out to a fearfully remote desert village. Dodging wild bombs and stray bullets, the Mamur Zapt desperately strives to preserve the law...and his own life. But to do so he must find answers to mystifying questions. Who are these would-be assailants who stalk their victims so cunningly? Who are the deadly "men behind"?