Abdelilah Hamdouchi is well known in his native Morocco for his crime fiction and many of his police novels have been adapted for Moroccan television. His novel, The Final Bet is, according to the publishers, the first Arabic detective novel to be translated into English.
At first glance the book is a straightforward police procedural. Sofia, an elderly French café owner in Casablanca, has been brutally murdered. The police are quick to label the deed as a crime of passion and suspicion falls on Sofia’s young Moroccan husband Othman and his lover Naeema. The task of investigating the murder falls to Detective Anwaar and his subordinates, who make up in brutality what they lack in competence. Rather than searching for clues and constructing a hypothesis, the police decide that Othman is guilty and ignore any evidence to the contrary.
There is a possibility that Othman really is the killer – he certainly had means, motive and opportunity – but his treatment by a force uninterested in truth and justice means that the reader sympathizes with him as a victim of a tyrannical system.
The Final Bet is not without flaws; the novel is awkwardly structured, and the twist in the tail is rather obvious. However, the very existence of such a novel would have been unthinkable in previous decades in Morocco, in which even to utter the word ‘police’ was fraught with danger. Paradoxically, then, this novel of police corruption and violence is an important marker in Moroccan society’s tentative steps away from arbitrary police power and towards the rule of law, and Arabia Books deserve credit for bringing it to a wider audience.
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