Veteran Moroccan author and screenwriter Abdelilah Hamdouchi creates a modern-day police detective story in his book Whitefly: A Novel.
The novel begins with a scene of student protests, exposing the reader to the wider social contexts of contemporary Moroccan society.
Four corpses have washed up from the Atlantic Ocean in the coastal city of Tangier. This is not an unusual occurrence because of drug trafficking and illegal smuggling of migrants across open seas in unsuitable vessels. But when one of the bodies is found to have bullet holes, the police are put on red alert.
Khalid Ibrahim, known in the force as Detective Laafrit, is immediately intrigued by the case. Guns are extremely difficult to bring into Morocco or to move around. What seems like the mundane case of harraga (migrant) deaths suddenly evolves into a murder mystery. The hunt for the murder weapon becomes crucial to solving the case.
Whitefly begins as a straightforward detective story. Laafrit, and his partner Abdellah scour the backstreets and bars of Tangier, eventually roaming into the countryside as the plot thickens.
Hamdouchi takes us into the private life of Laafrit, a father of one who is going through a rough patch with his wife.
Though the Moroccan police have been accused of brutality, in Laafrit we see a man with a conscience, respected in his profession but dealing with his own problems. He is intrigued by high-profile investigations cases yet still sympathetic to minor felonies afflicting ordinary folks.
Hamdouchi, 64, is a long-time writer of detective novels and screenplays. He is widely read in the Arab world, and his works on police fiction are edifying for non-Arab speaking readers as well.
As a detective novel set in Morocco, this book brings us a different background compared with the more widely available Western police fiction in the English language.
An understanding of what was going on inside the minds of some of the other key characters would have given us a broader and deeper personal connection to the story. At fewer than 150 pages, there was room for more character development.
Like a thorough detective who leaves no stone unturned, Whitefly moves at a steady winding pace before suddenly picking up speed in the later chapters.