Book Review: Introducing killers and inventing words

Ossama Lotfy Fateem , Wednesday 9 Aug 2023

A confusing title is only the start of the problems in Sherif Abdel-Meguid’s collection of short stories, whose memorable characters – particularly the killers – cannot make up for weak structure littered with plot holes.

 

Al Bibliomany AlAkheer (The Last Bibliomany) by Sherif Abdel-Meguid, Dar El Roba, Cairo 2022.

Some authors prefer to express their ideas and creativity in the form of short stories. To be successful in such a task, they have to convey the whole story in as little words as possible. Sometimes, they are capable of achieving that target and sometimes they are not.

The problems with Sherif Abdel-Meguid’s collection of short stories – The Last Bibliomany – start with the title. The author invented a word and inserted it into Arabic: what is a bibliomany? It is neither an English or a French word. From the beginning, he alienates a good portion of the readers and Arabic language enthusiasts for the sake of originality.

Among the eleven short stories in the book, Abdel-Meguid provides the reader with three killers, two of whom are serial killers.

The first serial killer is the bibliomany himself. We are introduced to a book enthusiast, the manager of a public library, who believes in the role of books during and after the digital age. That passion leads him to steal rare books to build his own “museum-like” library; a treasure trove where he is the guardian.

The writer also gives us three deaths in this story, a writer, a publisher, and a critic. The writer writes a novel inspired by the life of the bibliomany. The critic, with his influence, makes the novel a best seller. The publisher, in addition to making fortunes by selling rare books, makes a lot of money out of this novel.

According to the bibliomany’s rules, these people deserve to die. He poisons them within a short time span, which makes it easy for the police to find him. The investigator determines he was among the last people to see them before their death. Realizing that it was a matter of time before he is caught, the bibliomany simply commits suicide.

The details of the story estranges the reader from the main character. We find a nutcase so obsessed with rare books that he steals them, hoards them, and kills to prevent the discovery of his “treasure.” To put it another way, the bibliomany is someone that the average reader will never meet or understand.

The second killer is a rich man who wants to serve justice by punishing those who get away with crimes. The author was certainly inspired by the famous TV series Dexter. The author provides a ritualistic description of knives and the psychological love for blood, as well as many small details that any fan of the series can relate to.

Our killer only murdered four people. One target is the really atrocious killer known as “El-Torbini,” a real-life figure whose crimes shocked Egyptian society in 2007. El-Torbini raped and murdered scores of runaway children in railway stations. In real life, the killer was caught by the police and executed after a fair trial, but in the story the protagonist lures him into a trap and kills him Dexter-style.

Inserting such an evil case into a collection of short stories was a mistake by the author. Why bring such a case in a collection of stories?

The protagonist’s three other victims are a high society lady who cheats on her husband, a corrupt business man who fools banks into giving him loans with no collateral and is about to leave the country, while the third is a corrupt editor-in-chief of a famous newspaper. The killer has his reasons for the murders, but mainly enjoys the act of act of killing, cutting and dismembering the bodies of his victims.

Such high profile victims leads the authorities to work harder on identifying him. Once he realizes that they were coming for him, he shoots himself.

He may have been a killer like Dexter, but he certainly did not possess Dexter-like intelligence.

The story of the third killer is told first by the victim, a gardener working for a business tycoon married to a movie star. Everyone in the gardener’s village envies him for just being able to see these stars, who control the masses through advertisements, huge projects that affect their daily lives, and movies and TV series that shape their ambitions, ideas and futures.

The business tycoon kills the gardener, but is caught on the villa’s security camera. The reason given by the killer is that the gardener had not been paid for four months and intended to harm they tycoon’s kids. A ridiculous motive to be sure, but that was the one given to close the case. However, the author gave the real reason to the reader that is nonetheless ambiguous. The gardener saw what was happening in the tycoon’s house. So what? Was he blackmailing the tycoon? Maybe, but could not the latter have bought his silence instead of murdering him? Was he the only employee who saw what was happening in the house?

The whole structure of the story was weak, and the same thing can be said about the rest of the stories in the collection as well.

Abdel-Meguid’s style is smooth but the structure of most of his stories are full of holes and many are truncated.

For instance, in The Epicure, an overweight man is able to find success by advertising for restaurants, and eventually finds a girl to produce a show for him, only for her to steal it from him. The writer forgets to tell the reader that they are engaged, yet introduces her later as his fiancé. Many minor details are missing in the various stories which weakens the collection as a whole, it gives the impression to the reader that writer was not concentrating while writing.

The collection might be remembered for its various killers that the writer introduced. His fascination with blood and crime is captivating to say the least.

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