Monday, December 11, 2017

Aubrey Hamilton Reviews: Dogstar Rising by Parker Bilal

Because I know there are dozens, even hundreds, of mysteries out there that I would like if I could just find them, sometimes I go to the library and select books at random by five authors unfamiliar to me. The outcome is what you might expect: several books are returned after I read a few chapters, some I finish with no particular desire to read more by the author, and a few are gems. I found the mysteries of Parker Bilal that way; they are one of my great finds of 2017.

Jamal Mahjoub published several critically acclaimed novels before he began writing about Makana, an exiled Sudanese police investigator, under the name Parker Bilal. Set in Cairo in the early part of the 21st century, these books, six so far, reflect the political turmoil and religious tensions of the Middle East as they affect the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. For those of us who, thankfully, only know about these affairs as they are reported in news outlets, this very different perspective is illuminating.

Dogstar Rising (Bloomsbury, 2013) is the second Makana. (I read The Burning Gates, Makana #4, earlier this year.) This episode takes place in late summer 2001, as a serial killer victimizes street boys and a mysterious figure that many believe to be an angel appears on roofs throughout the city, both causing religious zealotry, always simmering, to approach an outright boil. The son of an old friend asks Makana, now acting as an unlicensed private investigator, to help the owner of a travel agency who has received threatening letters, a seemingly simple task that is complicated when a murder takes place outside the office and the local police and the state intelligence detectives want to know what Makana is doing. While staying out of their way, he stumbles across clues to the serial killer and crosses paths with an arms dealer.

An engrossing plot with multiple threads and more characters than I could easily keep track of. Perhaps it is just me but Makana seems to get beaten up far too often to bounce back as easily as he does. However, Mahjoub writes beautifully. His use of imagery is lyrical and imbues the mundane with a bit of magic. Water spraying from a hose resembles a silvery peacock tail, cats walk like queens, the moon is a copper penny tossed into the air. The ending paragraphs of the book are nothing less than inspired.

Part political thriller, part detective fiction, these stories defy easy categorization but they make exceptional reading. Highly recommended.

·         Hardcover: 400 pages
·         Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st edition (February 19, 2013)
·         Language: English
·         ISBN-10: 1608198715
·         ISBN-13: 978-1608198719

Aubrey Hamilton © 2017
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal IT projects by day and reads mysteries at night.

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