Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Review of Dogstar Rising by Parker Bilal (Bloomsbury, 2013)

A former policeman in Sudan, Makana fled in 1991 settling in Cairo.  A decade later he is working as a private investigator and is hired by a struggling travel agent to determine the provenance of a threatening letter.  There's tension in the area in which the agency is located: young boys are turning up dead, with a local Muslim leader using the murders to stoke up sectarian violence against the much smaller Christian Coptic community.  Makana soon determines that all is not well with the travel agency’s accounts and there is more to the letter than initially thought.  Then an employee is murdered, with Makana the only witness, and the police and state security services vie for control of the case.  As the tension continues to rise, Makana tries to solve both the travel agency puzzle and that of the murdered boys, all the time placing himself in more and more danger.

In this second outing for Makana, a refugee cop turned PI from Sudan, Parker Bilal tackles Christian/Muslim sectarianism, rising Islamic radicalism, and state security corruption in Egypt pre-9/11 head on, whilst keeping the mystery element of the story at its core.  Dogstar Rising then is very much a religious/political crime thriller but one played out by relatively minor players in the everyday life of the city.  That is, it’s not a political Thriller with a big T.  While the case relating to the murdered children adds tension, it is the thread concerning the workings of a dysfunctional travel agency that is most interesting and takes a different path to those well worn by crime fiction tropes.  Bilal does a good job of placing the reader into urban and social landscapes of Cairo and in particular its political and religious tensions.  The characterisation is nicely observed, in particular the stoic Makana, who often places justice ahead of his own interests.  Overall, an engaging read.

No comments: