All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Dogstar Rising – Parker Bilal

on March 19, 2013

Dogstar RisingDogstar Rising (Makana #2)
Parker Bilal
Bloomsbury Publishing
2013, 384p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of Bloomsbury ANZ

In the summer of 2001, before the terrorist attacks that rocked America and the globe, Cairo is concerned with the brutal murders of young and homeless boys. The deaths are creating religious tensions between the Muslims and the Coptics, the Egyptian Christians. Further complicating matters is the angel that appears on the rooftop of a nearby building whenever a body is found.

As a favour to the son of an old friend, Makana has paid a visit to the owner of a travel company who believes that he is receiving threats. When Makana arrives, he finds the office in a shambles and although there are various people drifting in and out, no one seems to be actually working. Despite not really wanting to take the job, Makana agrees to investigate, under the cover of an auditor brought in to help streamline the company for more efficiency. When Makana meets one of the workers and begins to talk to her, he realises that things are definitely not what they seem in this travel business and that there are some odd things going on.

Having fled his native Sudan a decade ago, Makana is stunned when someone approaches him and rocks his world with just one statement. Now he must decide whether or not to continue with the quiet life he aspires to in Cairo or take a chance on something that could be little more than a dream.

I read the first Makana book, The Golden Scales, last year and loved it. Cairo is portrayed in all its dirty, gritty, rough and overcrowded glory. In that novel there was a highlight of the rich against the poor and how corrupt the city was. In this second book, it’s more about religion.

Straddling Africa and the Middle East, Egypt is a country almost without a clear identity. It is home to refugees that have fled wartorn nations in Africa, it is home to Muslims and it is home to Christians. Wherever there is religious fervour there is bound to be trouble and this book tackles an attempt to divide the different religions by setting them against each other.

Dogstar Rising is rife with the same grittiness as The Golden Scales. Despite his wish to live a safe, comfortable life, Makana does have the knack of poking his nose into things that people really don’t want him poking his nose into…and then they try to kill him. He is poor, with barely enough money to pay the rent on his houseboat, his taxi fares and his bribes for information but he always seems to get by. He still mourns the loss of his wife and child and the loss of his idyllic Sudan as well. He’s resigned to the fact that he can never go back there but Egypt is not exactly what one would call safe, either. In fact in this book alone I think at least five people should’ve attempted to find refuge in other countries or tried to, or were fleeing. Despite the danger, the city seems to foster a great love and pride in its residents, almost at the same time as they seem in despair about it. It’s so far removed from what is familiar to me that I can’t help but lap it up – the sights, sounds, smells are all described here as Makana works his way through all parts of Cairo – the seediest underside with 12 year olds running drugs, guns and who knows what else for wealthy corrupt men, the middle income earners who keep their heads down and stay out of trouble, the journalists and their quests for the truth and the wealthy who are almost untouchable.

There’s a twist in this one as someone attempts to throw Makana with information to make him do something. It may or may not be true, Makana has no way of knowing and he must agonise over what to do. He’s used to being alone, he’s used to thinking that he knew what happened on that day that he fled Sudan. I think it was an interesting side plot and I’d love to see Makana return to Sudan one day, even though he does not believe that to be possible. Until that particular part of the plot, I would not have said it was necessary to have read The Golden Scales before tackling this one but now I think that it would be best for a reader if these were consumed in order.

Dogstar Rising is one slick crime novel that marries up a fabulous setting with truly clever plots. I love immersing myself in the streets of Cairo again as Makana tracks his investigations and learning more and more about this area and the people who live there. The next one will be set in a post-9/11 world and I do wonder whether or not that will be obvious in the next novel, if there will be stark differences that reflect how different things became after that day. This series is quickly becoming a favourite of mine and I look forward to more books. As Parker Bilal is a pen-name for Jamal Mahjoub, I really need to have a look at some of his literary novels under his name.

8/10

Book #63 of 2013

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