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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Final Bet

Abdelilah Hamdouchi

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To purchase The Final Bet

Title: The Final Bet
Author: Abdelilah Hamdouchi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 148 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: The Final Bet - US
The Final Bet - UK
The Final Bet - Canada
  • Arabic title: الرهان الأخير
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Jonathan Smolin

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Our Assessment:

B : simple, but has some appeal

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Final Bet is set in Morocco, where Sofia runs a restaurant with her husband, Othman. Sofia is French, wealthy, and old -- seventy-three. Othman is a local, and only thirty-two -- and, yes, "the obvious disparity shocked everyone". An unemployed law-graduate, Othman married the old lady because he saw few alternatives, and her wealth has allowed him to help his family and to live in considerable comfort.
       Othman is also in love, with a woman much closer to his age, Naeema, but he can barely ever escape Sofia's watchful eyes to see her. Among the few opportunities he has is when he takes the dog out for a walk, when Naeema waits for him and they share a few minutes alone. After one such late-night rendezvous Othman comes home and finds his wife with a knife sticking in her belly, close to death. He pulls it out, but she's a goner, and when the police, led by Detective Alwaar, show up it's obvious to everyone that Othman is the prime suspect. When it turns out that she left him everything in her recently written will -- and it turns out Othman knew that -- it looks like all the pieces have fallen into place.
       Pretty much on a whim Othman turns to former classmate Hulumi, who is now a practising lawyer, and asks him to take on the case. The lawyer does a bit of investigating, and the book culminates in a courtroom scene where the truth is revealed.
       The Final Bet plays out like a very simple, almost old-fashioned mystery, and the crime, motive, and perpetrators are hardly exceptional. But the locale and circumstances do add something to the novel, as Hamdouchi contrasts typical Moroccan police procedure with what is necessary for justice to be served.
       It is apparently a transitional time in Morocco, with a crack-down on police brutality that hasn't gone down well with the police. Alwaar himself has problems with the new approach:

His work became confusing; it was hard for him to get confessions without slapping or kicking a suspect, or sending him down to the torture room in the basement of the police station before interrogation. Alwaar didn't know how to do his job without brutality. He just couldn't get used to sitting in front of a suspect without being aggressive or insulting
       Hamdouchi's point is, of course, that the old system easily leads to travesties of justice. Even the judge here wonders why Othman doesn't just confess, since all the evidence points to him being the murderer, and in the good old days they would have just smacked him around for a while and, seeing how hopeless his situation was, he certainly would have admitted to the crime.
       Hamdouchi also goes further in his book: by presenting it as a Western-style crime novel he is suggesting how things should work: this case should be a police-procedural, but it takes a lawyer to do the necessary legwork and figure out what happened. As the lawyer explains:
     "I want to investigate this case like a cop," continued Hulumi. "If I can prove Othman's innocent, I'll have enough evidence to show the law has to be changed so a lawyer can be present when the judicial police question a suspect. I can do that by writing a series of articles about this in the press. Democracy in Morocco has to begin from the police stations.
       Hulumi's ambitious plans for legal reform are a bit more than this small murder case can bear, but the case does allow Hamdouchi to bring up some important issues. He's careful also not to present the police as the bad guys, but rather simply as working within an inadequate system. He shows them doing their job (and not pushing anyone around, at least not too hard), but also shows that going even by the now non-violent book isn't enough to ensure that the truly guilty are found.
       The criticism of Morocco is fairly light, the focus of it on the past ("The seventies and eighties were a time when Morocco experienced political tyranny. The most horrific types of oppression were practiced"). Hamdouchi is decidedly too rosy about the present -- with the book culminating in a celebratory meal where everyone gets along, the policemen joining the lawyer, Othman, and Naeema -- but then the whole book is a rather careful light mystery.
       In his Afterword Jonathan Smolin notes that times have very much changed in Morocco, and that during the 'Years of Lead' of the 1970s and 80s: "Even uttering the word 'Police' in public [...] was considered taboo", and that the idea of a detective novel of this sort only became possible with the liberalisation of the 1990s. Indeed, there's still very little crime-fiction in the Arab world, and while Hamdouchi has written several (still untranslated) police novels it's not too far-fetched for the publishers of this one to claim that The Final Bet is: "the first Arabic detective novel to be translated into English".
       Though very simple, and in part also naïve compared to standard American or European crime-fare, the conditions presented in The Final Bet make it a novel of some interest. It's not so much the exotic locale but rather the very different social and legal environment that make the work interesting, and Hamdouchi's perspective -- seeing it in Moroccan terms, not those of some Western writer -- also give it a more compelling feel. And even if the crime and how the case is resolved are unremarkable (and, in part, too facile), Hamdouchi has a nice, simple style that make it an enjoyable read. Worthwhile.

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The Final Bet: Reviews: Other books by Abdelilah Hamdouchi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Moroccan author Abdelilah Hamdouchi (عبد الإله الحمدوشي) was born in 1958.

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