Friday, October 5, 2012

Review of The Golden Scales by Parker Bilal (Bloomsbury, 2012)

A former police inspector, Makana lives on a rickety house boat in Cairo having fled Sudan seven years previously, forced out by Islamic extremists who killed his wife and daughter.  He now ekes out a living as a private investigator, fed jobs by Inspector Okasha, a friend in the Egyptian police and by word of mouth.  One morning he summoned to the penthouse apartment of Saad Hanafi, a self-made man who owns a vast property empire, dozens of businesses and a football club, the Dreem Team.  Hanafi wants Makana to find their missing star player, Adil Romario, a playboy figure who’d like to star in movies.  Aware of Hanafi’s notorious reputation for playing dirty, Makana agrees to undertake the job, knowing that he is only being given a partial version of the story as to Adil’s disappearance.  It doesn’t take him long to discover that the Hanafi empire is in trouble and not all is well in the aging kingpin’s household.  Determined to locate Adil, he is thrust into Cairo’s rich and seedy underbelly, tangling with a Russian gangster, Islamic fundamentalists, the intelligence services, and an English mother searching for the daughter abducted many years earlier.

The Golden Scales has all the ingredients of a good crime thriller - colourful, engaging characters, a strong sense of place, social context and politics, a tangled knot of competing interests and intrigue, and well written prose.  For the most part it’s a very good read.  Makana is a wonderful character with an interesting back story, and the sense of place is excellent, dropping the reader into modern day Cairo and the Red Sea resorts.  Where the story is slightly let down is with some elements of the plotting.  Generally, it is nicely constructed and it builds towards a tense climax.  However, there are a couple of points which don’t really add up.  For example, Cairo is a massive city, yet Makana meets the English woman searching for her child quite by chance in a restaurant and somehow decides that she is somehow linked to the Hanafi case.  There is no basis for that assumption, and meeting her and splicing the threads together is a massive coincidence and plot device that is clumsily executed. The resolution is also a little clunky with Hanafi’s reaction seeming out of character.  These awkward moments undermine what is otherwise an interesting and enjoyable tale.

1 comment:

Declan Burke said...

I'd agree with most of that, Rob. I thought Makana's backstory was the most interesting aspect, and the best written, of the novel; and the place itself is perfect for private eye fiction. Slightly disappointed overall, but I'm curious to see where he'll go with it.

Cheers, Dec