I love reading thrillers. They have this promise about them which most thriller and action writers live up to. Parker Bilal was a new name to me when it came to the thriller genre. Parker Bilal is the pseudonym of Jamal Mahjoub who has written six literary novels prior to the “Makana” mysteries. “The Golden Scales” is the first Makana mystery, which takes place in Cairo.
The ancient city of Cairo is the perfect backdrop for this story. Cairo is stepping into the new, with the old left behind. The rich and the poor co-exist. The corrupt and the honest are seen in its alleys and by-lanes. Cairo is a place, where secrets fester and are hidden and people disappear in the blink of an eye.
A lot is happening in this book. Makana, a former Sudanese policeman, forced to flee to Cairo is at the heart of this novel. He is now struggling to make his ends meet as a private detective. He is desperate enough to take on a case from Saad Hanafi, the mogul and filthy rich mobster and the owner of the Cairo Soccer Team. The case is that of finding one of the players of his Soccer Team that has been kidnapped. As Makana delves further into the case, things start spiraling out of control for him. He enters the treacherous underbelly of the city – encountering actresses, Muslim extremists, Russian gangsters, vengeful women, and a woman searching for a daughter after years – and the last incident is somehow linked to him and his past. This aspect was just to show that we can never leave the past behind. No matter how hard we try.
Bilal’s writing is sharp and funny in most places. It is structured the way a thriller should be – revealing the layers one at a time and not giving away the entire plot. The juxtaposition of a thriller with the Islamic world and the political volatility of a country and a city are done with great finesse and intelligence.
Makana’s character has various shades to it – he is not like the regular detective that we have been used to. That is what drew me to the book and made me kept turning the pages. The characterization is done with a lot of thought and effort by Bilal.
Cairo as a city is one of the central characters of the city. A reader can almost taste and smell the food and the aromas. The dark alleys can be conjured in a minute as you read the parts. This is the first Makana mystery that Bilal has written and I am sure after the second one (which will be out soon), there will be more to come. I am hoping that they are, because it will be a great series.