A Day in the Life at the Mena House
By Erica Ruth Neubauer, Author of Murder at the Mena House
The Mena House Hotel in Cairo, Egypt, is a beautiful and utterly unique historic hotel facing the Great Pyramids of Giza. It was originally built in 1869 as a royal “rest stop” by Khedive Isma’il Pasha—someplace he and his party could stop when they wanted to visit the pyramids or hunt in the desert, and it was nicknamed “the Mud Hut.”
In 1883, it was purchased by a wealthy couple, Jessie and Frederick Head, who went to work putting on an addition. It was a friend of the Heads who suggested the name Mena House—named after King Menes (or Mena), the founding father of the first Egyptian dynasty and the ruler credited with uniting Upper and Lower Egypt.
Unfortunately, Frederick Head died a few years after he and his wife purchased Mena House, and another wealthy couple, the Locke-Kings, purchased the large mansion. Edith Locke-King decided it would be fun to turn the place into a truly luxurious hotel, and they set about expanding the building. The Locke-Kings outfitted the place with exquisite wooden latticework and furniture from nearby towns, as well as lovely blue tiles and mosaics. They worked hard to keep the architecture and furnishings Arabic in design—including the dining room, which was designed to look like the interior of a mosque—although they did add large fireplaces to the building, which were unusual in the country. They also decided that each room should have its own balcony—almost unheard of for hotels at the time.
The hotel was popular, especially for the rich and famous, although it sounds as though the Locke-Heads might have operated at a loss due to their generous nature when “friends” came to stay—bills would magically be taken care of. After a time, the Locke-Kings left their friend the Baron Rodakowsky in charge, and it was he who oversaw the addition of the famous swimming pool (the first of its kind at a hotel in Egypt), as well as the stables and a stand for gymkhanas—camel races or other contests.
The hotel changed hands several more times but maintained its appeal for wealthy visitors to the pyramids, including Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife, Louise, who spent the winter of 1895–96 there. When World War I broke out, the hotel was used as a hospital, as well as an encampment for Australian troops and their horses. By this time there was a tram line out to Giza, so the troops could more easily head into Cairo to paint the town red.
After the war, tourism in Egypt boomed, and in the 1920s my protagonist Jane Wunderly could have bumped into any number of famous characters at the Mena House during her stay, including Charlie Chaplin, King Gustave of Sweden, or Prince Farouk (the crown prince of Egypt), who especially liked to dine at the hotel. There is a charming anecdote about a member of the staff entering the kitchen one night to find Prince Farouk making himself a beef sandwich—he’d made himself right at home.
A typical day for Jane at the hotel would have started with waking up at her leisure and having breakfast, perhaps on the terrace overlooking the pyramids. Since she wasn’t interested in sports, she most likely would have avoided both the tennis courts and the golf course, but she could have spent a morning or afternoon lying by the pool or relaxing in the large garden. She also might have taken the tram into Cairo to visit the Cairo Egyptian Museum or to do some shopping, or hired a guide to show her around the pyramids. Later, after a bath in her private bathroom, Jane would have headed to the bar for a cocktail before going into dinner in the gorgeously decorated dining room. And chances were good that afterward, there would be a raucous party to fill the evening—if not at the Mena House, then at one of the other fine hotels in Cairo, since the nightly shindigs rotated among the luxury hotels in Cairo. Jane would have had plenty to keep her busy during her stay—when she wasn’t trying to solve a murder, of course.
About the Author
Erica Ruth Neubauer spent eleven years in the military, nearly two as a Maryland police officer, and one as a high school English teacher before finding her way as a writer. She has been a reviewer of mysteries and crime fiction for publications such as Publishers Weekly and Mystery Scene Magazine for several years, and she is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Erica Ruth lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with her husband. Visit her at EricaRuthNeubauer.com and on the social platforms below.
Well-heeled travelers from around the world flock to the Mena House Hotel—an exotic gem in the heart of Cairo where cocktails flow, adventure dispels the aftershocks of World War I, and deadly dangers wait in the shadows.
Egypt, 1926. Fiercely independent American Jane Wunderly has made up her mind: she won’t be swept off her feet on a trip abroad. Despite her Aunt Millie’s best efforts at meddling with her love life, the young widow would rather gaze at the Great Pyramids of Giza than into the eyes of a dashing stranger. Yet Jane’s plans to remain cool and indifferent become ancient history in the company of Mr. Redvers, a roguish banker she can’t quite figure out.
While the Mena House has its share of charming guests, Anna Stainton isn’t one of them. The beautiful socialite makes it clear that she won’t share the spotlight with anyone—especially Jane. But Jane soon becomes the center of attention when she’s the one standing over her unintentional rival’s dead body.
Now, with her innocence at stake in a foreign country, Jane must determine who can be trusted, and who had motive to commit a brutal murder. Between Aunt Millie’s unusual new acquaintances, a smarmy playboy with an off-putting smile, and the enigmatic Mr. Redvers, someone has too many secrets. Can Jane excavate the horrible truth before her future falls to ruin in Cairo … and the body count rises like the desert heat?