One of the fun things about mysteries is the wealth of peculiar characters they always have---without any of that cases of cutes crap you can find so easily in general fiction. There are the savory and unsavory, heroes and villains and then the Damon Runyon-esque populace. You’d be hard pressed to find a mystery that doesn’t follow that pattern no matter where that book hails from. These broad types are one of the delights of The Golden Scales by Parker Bilal.
Cairo is the setting for this new mystery, The Golden Scales, with a gallery of interesting characters. So great setting, great people we are half way to reading happiness right? To finish this book off on the plus side there is also a detective who is outside of the ordinary and a plot that twists and turns. We have a winner.
Our detective is Makana a former Sudanese policeman. Forced to leave Sudan under a cloud, Makana squeezes out a hand to mouth living as a private detective in Cairo. As much as he would like to he doesn’t have the luxury of only taking cases from the righteous and innocent. That is how he ends up employed by the corrupt and underhanded entrepreneur Saad Hanafi. Makana is hired to find the sleazy Hanafi’s missing star soccer player. During his investigation Makana is quickly rubbing elbows with hucksters, failed starlets, icky film directors, Russian gangsters, Muslim extremists, a fraught mother searching for a long missing child, an old enemy from his past and a murderer. Despite increasing danger, threats and painful memories Makana is dogged in his pursuit of a killer.
Bilal packs his plot with details and loads on the crime novel picturesque. One of my favorites is Hanafi’s soccer stadium decorated with statues of gods who all look remarkably like Hanafi. Bilal creates a mood of barely contained chaos that suits his underbelly picture of Cairo. There is more to The Golden Scales than a reader usually finds in gumshoe fiction. Bilal by way the charismatic Makana and his adventures amid the shady and desperate has plenty to say about Cairo, politics and the economics of survival.
P.S. Bilal is the pseudonym of author Jamal Mahjoub author of seven books including The Drift Latitudes.