Review: DOGSTAR RISING by Parker Bilal

DogstarRisingParkerBilalDOGSTAR RISING takes place during the Egyptian summer of 2001. Makana is an exiled Sudanese policeman now working as a private detective in Cairo and he is hired by the owner of a struggling travel agency to look into the matter of some threatening letters that the agency has received. When he starts working undercover at the travel agency Makana meets a woman called Meera and it is her secret that begins to shed light on what might be going on. At the same time, a series of brutal murders of young boys is taking place in the city and suspicion is directed towards the Copts, a minority religious group. Makana becomes unwittingly involved in this case too.

Jamal Mahjoub has written five literary novels but it was his pseudonymous creations as Parker Bilal that were the subject of the session I caught at a local writers’ festival last month. DOGSTAR RISING is the second book to feature the character of Makana and I wish I’d read the first one as I did have the occasional sense I was missing out on something by not having read the story that introduced Makana. That aside though this is a terrifically atmospheric novel, offering the unique mixture of insights that only someone who was born in England to an English mum and a Sudanese dad and has lived in Sudan, Egypt, the UK, Denmark and (currently) Spain can supply.

The strongest element of the novel by far is the sense of time and place conveyed. Cairo is depicted as a place of poverty, corruption and a kind of vague, direction-less social unrest (it would take another decade for that to coalesce into something stronger). In some ways it is an exotic world very different to my own but it other ways, such as the ease with which ‘the mob’ can be manipulated to turn on minorities, is eerily and sadly familiar. The anti refugee sentiment in particular could be plucked from some of my own country’s present-day newspapers.

Makana lives on the fringes of his community mostly because few people let him forget for long that he is an outsider, though also I think because of the tragedies in his own personal history which have led him to choose a more solitary life than he might otherwise have led. But despite those tragedies and the harsh way he tends to be treated he is one of the good guys, aiming always to get to the truth of a thing even if that proves to be dangerous. He isn’t unrealistically wholesome though.  In this novel he is presented with a very real moral dilemma and we see him  struggle with the difficult decision in a credible way.

Although recognisably a work of crime fiction DOGSTAR RISING does offer a lot more than the standard whodunnit. In fact in some ways the mystery element of the book is the weakest due to some unnecessary complexities that feel a bit contrived. But overall this is a very entertaining and thought provoking novel that I would recommend to those who enjoy exotic locations depicted authentically (though I would read THE GOLDEN SCALES,  the first book in the series, if you can lay your hands on that one first).

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Bloomsbury Publishing [2013]
ISBN 9781408832837
Length 309 pages
Format eBook (ePub)
Book Series #2 in the Makana series

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4 Responses to Review: DOGSTAR RISING by Parker Bilal

  1. Kathy D. says:

    This book sounds quite good,with many of the key elements that make reading global fiction so
    enticing for its fans. To read about a new (to us) location and its people is what we hope to find in our quest to expand our reading experiences and knowledge, while having a good time.
    I follow developments in Egypt in the news, but have not read a book, mystery or otherwise, set in Egypt and look forward to finding this one and the first in the series.
    I’ll put both on my TBR list.

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  2. Sarah says:

    I have a copy of this on my shelf waiting to be read. Thanks for the review Bernadette.It soudns interesting and I haven’t read anything set in Cairo for a while.

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  3. Bernadette – I’ve heard good things about this one. I’m glad you liked to and I agree with you that sometimes, the atmosphere of a book can make it worth reading even if the mystery itself isn’t at the forefront of the story. And some of the things you describe (anti-immigrant/refugee sentiment for instance) are just as sadly familiar for me…

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  4. Pingback: Books of the Month – April 2013 | Reactions to Reading

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