Book Review: Dogstar Rising, Parker Bilal

Book Review: Dogstar Rising, Parker Bilal

Dogstar Rising, Parker Bilal

Mystery: Dogstar Rising, Parker Bilal

Detective Makana has decided to help the son of an old friend. The son is in love with a girl whose father needs some investigative work done. This inauspicious beginning leads Makana to a small travel agency and possibly to the answer for a question he did not know he was asking.

 

Dogstar Rising is the second Makana mystery by Parker Bilal, and it is brilliant. Again set mostly in Cairo, Makana is both dogged and brilliant. Refusing to be put off the case by crooked officials, physical intimidation, bribes, or threats, Makana insists on pursuing the truth. When a young woman in the travel agency is killed right in front of him, Makana will stop at nothing to find justice for her.

 

Makana finds himself pursuing multiple mysteries during the course of this book. The death of the young woman, which may or may not be related to the investigation of the travel agency. The gruesome murders of several children in a slum area of the city. A mysterious priest with a shrouded past. A monastery with a scandalous secret. And the possibility that his own daughter survived the car crash that he thought had taken her life ten years before. And not to give away any spoilers, but the skill with which the author draws these sundry plots together is quite impressive. Makana is part Sherlock Holmes, but much more is simply unstoppable, following lead after lead even when it looks like they might take him directly to his own death.

 

The book is set in the summer of 2001. This becomes very meaningful in the last scene of the novel, which takes place in a cafe on September 11. Reading the reactions of these (mostly) Egyptians, I was reminded of the fact that 9/11 was an attack on the entire world. Sometimes our American sensibilities are so focused on America that we don’t acknowledge that most people around the world, including in the Middle East, were aghast and horrified by the attacks that day. These may have been fictional characters in this novel, but the reactions are very much what I have heard from other sources and from friends around the world. True, there were people who celebrated. There were many more who wept.

 

In two books this has become a favorite series of mine. Fortunately for me, there are several more in the series already in print, so I don’t have to wait for the next one to come out. I just have to get over to the library for it!

 

Dogstar Rising, Parker Bilal

Book Review: Dogstar Rising, Parker Bilal

Book Review: The Golden Scales, Parker Bilal

Book Review: The Golden Scales, Parker Bilal

The Golden Scales

Mystery: The Golden Scales, Parker Bilal

Seventeen years earlier, a young British mother visited Cairo in search of the father of her toddler daughter. Failing to find him, she returns to her hotel room. A delivery arrives for her: an envelope full of cash…and heroin. The woman loves her daughter, but the temptation of the drugs is too much for her. When she awakens, her daughter is missing, lost somewhere in the streets of Cairo.

 

Inspector Makana has lived in Cairo for seven years after fleeing Islamists in his native Sudan. He gets by financially as a private investigator, although the income is poor and sporadic at best. Then a man shows up in his home and takes him to the apartment of perhaps the wealthiest man in Egypt. A star soccer player is missing, the star of the team he owns, and he wants Makana to find him.

 

Despite the lengthy time difference between these crimes and the lack of any obvious connection, Makana comes to believe there is a connection between them. Discovering that connection might solve the crimes. It might also get him killed.

 

Parker Bilal is a pen name for author Jamal Mahjoub. Better known for his literary novels, Mahjoub uses the Bilal name for his Makana mystery novels. The Golden Scales is the first of the series, which now has at least six books. I am late to this party, but I am glad my library had the book on a display. Perhaps you can’t judge a book by its cover, but my local library (www.schlowlibrary.org) does know how to judge a good book. I am glad they put it on display, I am glad I checked it out, and I am looking forward to reading more of the series.

 

Makana is the sort of world-weary detective familiar to mystery fans. I am not sure if “Arab noir” is a genre, but if it isn’t then Makana could be the beginning of a trend. Makana may physically reside in Cairo, but Khartoum is never far from his thoughts. His wife and daughter were killed there. In Khartoum, before the Islamists took power, he was a respected homicide detective. In Cairo, he rents a raft (it does not really deserve the designation “houseboat”) and is constantly behind on his rent. His sense of right and wrong, though, demand that he do his best in every investigation and follow the leads wherever they take him.

 

Good mysteries give enough clues to let the reader solve the case along with the detective. Great mysteries still leave some twists at the end. This one gave enough clues in the body to let me solve much of the mystery, but also left a few twists to change direction on a couple of matters in the last few chapters. To my tastes, that makes for a perfect mystery novel.

 

I have never been to Cairo, but Bilal does a wonderful job of describing the city, from the jinn that wind through the empty lots (as a child in Colorado we called them “dust devils”) to the traffic that chokes the city with smog to the towering enclaves of the rich to the sprawling slums of the poor. Cairo has between 15 and 20 million residents, putting it into the top 20 largest cities in the world. That certainly gives it plenty of stories to keep any novelist busy.

 

Whether you are a fan of noir, a fan of mysteries, interested in a well-written story, or want to read evocative descriptions of an ancient/modern city, The Golden Scales is a great place to start. And since it is the first in an ongoing series, the fun does not have to stop there. I am definitely looking forward to moving on with this series.

 

The Golden Scales

Book Review: The Golden Scales, Parker Bilal