This book was sent to me by Bloomsbury India in exchange of an honest review
This was last book in the three book crime box set sent to me by Bloomsbury India and was the best of the lot.
It was crime fiction set in Egypt. A definite first for me. And surprise, surprise, I loved the author’s execution of the story, the locale, the desert and the beliefs of the people living in small towns away from the hustle and bustle of city. A desert always seems to lend itself as a perfect backdrop for any number of fables. Parker Bilal presents a surprisingly fast paced and sharply edited thriller that incorporates the Egyptian landscape and lifestyles in perfect harmony with the plot.
PI Makana lost his wife and daughter while fleeing the change of regime in Sudan years ago where he had been a well-respected, up and coming police detective. Now he lives in Cairo, Egypt on a dilapidated houseboat and does any investigation that calls for his expertise and some that do not, like divorce investigations. The story begins with Makana shadowing a respected lawyer who is suspected by his wife of having an affair. On the last day of surveillance the lawyer leads Makana to a nursing home where he visits a badly burnt 17 year old young woman.
In a strange twist of events, the lawyer then employs Makana to find out the truth about what really happened to the girl. While the police believes it to be a suicide attempt, the lawyer suspects it of being an honour killing by the girl’s estranged father. The matter is complicated by the fact of the father being a known terrorist and exiled from the country years ago. Also, the father never maintained a relationship with his family and it seems strange that he would come back after such a long time to kill his daughter. Makana’s investigations lead him to the small town called Siwa near the border from where the girl’s parents originally hailed.
The greater part of the book takes place in Siwa and various strange and inexplicable happenings keep Makana there for longer than he anticipated. Its a story of viciousness and the hard life for the people who stay at the mercy of the desert. It is also the story of the status or lack thereof of women in a Muslim country. A sobering reflection that there are huge tracts of land where women are considered commodities owned by the men in their lives and have little or no rights. It is chilling to imagine that but for the privilege of birth one may have been born into a society where one had as much freedom as a slave in some ancient Arabian night story. The author brings out the strange attitude of a small community towards child abuse and incest where it is deemed best to keep one’s head down and follow the maxim ‘a man’s home is his business’. Even as Parker Bilal enumerates the numerous wrongs carried out against the women in the story, he still presents them as women of spirit and sense – a circumstance not easily digested by the men who had control over their lives.
The author presents the local police force as trying their best to curb terrorist influence in a country with porous borders where it is very difficult to convince people to help them and there are many willing to bend the teachings of their holy scriptures to suit their own nefarious purposes. It is a tight rope for those who are responsible for law and order in the country and wish to be seen by the rest of the world as doing everything they can to counter terrorism.
Makana like most successful detectives in literature is a tortured soul. The death of his wife and the conflicting reports of his daughter’s escape weigh him down heavily. In this book he also meets a woman who intrigues and attracts him by her beauty and courage although she seemed a little unstable to me by her hyper-active reactions. Makana also has some very loyal friends who stand by him irrespective of the danger that they may find themselves through his investigations. Maybe the suspense was not really very effective an one did have an inkling where things were headed, but one is given over to enjoying the story and the characters. I liked Makana from the very first pages and he doesn’t let the reader down at any point. It is just my kind of fiction and I loved it.
One thing though – Egyptian names are very different from any I have ever read or heard before. It made a little difficult to remember them all at first, but it all worked out in the end. Wondered about them quite a bit and decided it is probably the African influence.