Hello dear reader(s) and welcome to another instalment of Nessa reads books and writes reviews (NRBWR). I recently wrote a warm-up post for Dewey’s readathon about globetrotting around the world with crime novels. In the post I wrote about the importance of locations to crime novels, stating that a location is an important character in the book. It affects everyone and everything and you can learn a lot about a location by reading crime novels. Since I started the Makana series during the readathon, in today’s review I’m taking you, dear reader(s), to the Middle East. Or to be more precise to Egypt’s capital city – Cairo.
Parker Bilal is the pseudonym of Jamal Mahjoub, an acclaimed author of various works of fiction. The following quote from his website sums his writing perfectly.
“His novels cover subjects as diverse as Sudan’s history and strife, heliocentricity, and exploration of identity.”
To avoid possible confusion: since Mahjoub wrote the Makana crime novels under his chosen nom de plume in this text I will mainly refer to him as Parker Bilal. Mahjoub was born in London in the 60s, his father is from Sudan and his mother is British. At various times in his life he lived in the UK, Sudan, Egypt, Denmark and Spain. His first Makana novel, The Golden Scales, was published in 2012 and 5 more followed. The Makana series, named after the main protagonist, so far consists of 6 novels: the afore mentioned The Golden Scales, Dogstar Rising, The Ghost Runner, The Burning Gates, City of Jackals and Dark Water. The series main protagonist is Makana (no idea if this is his name or surname, it’s not specified), a former Sudanese police inspector, who after the 1989 military coup fled to Egypt. Living as a political refugee in a rented awama (a houseboat of sorts) in Cairo he works as a private investigator (not as glamourous as it sounds, but it pays the bills). If you want to read a much better summary and breakdown of all the books mossy on to this article (‘cause y’all know I can’t write a good retelling of a plot if my life depended on it) and come back for the rest of my review.
Usually when people continue to read a crime series named after the main protagonist they really like said protagonist. In the Makana series is not solely about the main protagonist – it’s also about the amazing cast of supporting characters who appear regularly in the books. I got attached to Makana, but also to his support system: journalists Sami and Rania, police inspector Okasha, Doctora Siham, Aziza – his landlady’s daughter, Sinbad the taxi driver and others. Throughout the novels Bilal inserts little titbits about the characters: some quirk, or perhaps a favourite cartoon… Those little things make them more real, and in the blink of an eye you’re invested. They become the people you care about, you’re interested in their lives and you want to know what’s happening with them and you’re happy when they do well. It sounds mad when I put it like that, but interesting characters will do that to you, and the characters in this series truly are fascinating.
However, a brilliant crime novel is not all about the characters, no matter how interesting and likable they are. The plot and location are also important. Bilal’s novels follow a certain plot template: the novel begins with a prologue that is seemingly unconnected to the main plot, but as the novel progresses the seemingly unconnected prologue weaves its way into the main storyline along with Makana’s history. And bang! Everything’s connected. Kind of like the MCU, but a gazillion times better! Cairo also plays an important role in the series. It’s the setting of all the novels, except the last one Dark Water that takes place in Istanbul. Egypt’s capital is vibrant, moody, dangerous, energetic, corrupt, mysterious, the traffic is crazy and the food is amazing. It’s simultaneously static and ever-changing, and a home to a variety of characters. It brings a certain unique je ne sais quoi flavour to the series.
All things considered it’s pretty obvious that I adore this series and that I will obviously shove it down your throats until you read it. 😀 And you should read it! It’s brilliant, captivating and fascinating! The plot is intriguing and engaging, it’s never predictable and it’s keeping you on your toes at all times. The characters are interesting, fun and adorable at times. They’re not just there to fill a plot hole in a certain instalment, they’re an organic part of the series. They develop and grow as the series progresses. Makana, the main character, is intriguing and complex. Although he broods about his past he nonetheless perseveres and carries on with his life. Cairo at the beginning of the 21st century provides an excellent setting for a crime novel. I’m running out of lavish praises 🙂 so without further ado get thee to a bookstore and go immerse yourself in Cairo. Until next time dear reader(s)!
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