I read far too much European crime fiction these days at the expense of books coming from other countries. Even American crime writers, a staple of my teenage years, are beginning to slip from my reading. However, I’ve been meaning to try Parker Bilal for a while, ever since I met him at a Bloomsbury event last year. I read The Ghost Runner over the Easter weekend and was pleased that I finally broke my Eurocentric reading spree. Because Bilal gives a glimpse of a world removed from the city and plunges us into the Egyptian outback where revenge and violence are treated as a matter of course.
Private Investigator Makana is in exile from his native Sudan and still trying to find out what happened to his missing wife and daughter. He is employed to track down the perpetrator of a horrific act of violence on a young girl, the trail of which leads him to the edge of the Sahara desert. There, a decades old feud is reignited and Makana’s life comes under threat as he edges closer to revealing the secrets of this small community.
I found the book to be a slow, substantial read that gradually draws the reader into the sparseness of the desert community. The initial act of violence takes place in Cairo but the narrative quickly moves to a rural setting which suits Bilal’s style of writing more. Makana feels instinctively at home in the vast landscape which reminds him of his native Sudan. For a while the Cairo crime seems far removed from the action taking place in the desert but everything slowly comes together at the conclusion.
The descriptions of the long held tensions in a remote Egyptian town is this book’s greatest strength and what started as a slow but steady read for me became compelling towards the end. I notice I have Bilal’s two earlier books on my shelves to read and I intend to make these a priority over the next month.
Many thanks to Bloomsbury for my review copy.