Review: Parker Bilal – The Burning Gates

51CTMC92iIL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Parker Bilal’s The Ghost Runner was in my top five reads of 2014. It was an evocative tale of despair and revenge set in the Egyptian desert. For The Burning GatesBilal brings his investigator, Makana, back to Cairo to track down a painting that was stolen from Baghdad during the US invasion. But soon his employer is dead and Makana finds himself the subject of competing attentions from various businessmen whose interests extend beyond the art world.

Bilal’s greatest strength is the quality of his writing. All the Makana books have been very well written and The Burning Gates is no exception. You get a feel of the writer’s craft that has gone into both plotting the book and executing the narrative. Bilal doesn’t shy away from violence and there’s always strong sense of menace in his books. This is particularly so in The Burning Gates where towards the end, it becomes quite a bloodbath.

Parker is excellent at depicting a Sudanese exile mourning his former country and the sense of loss permeates the novel. A recurring thread in the Makana books is the loss of his wife and daughter. It’s revisited again here and it would be nice to see it resolved at some point.

Bilal’s writing is something different to a lot of the crime fiction out there. Once again I recommend reading his novels. He’s proof that crime fiction can be written to the highest standard.

Thanks to Bloomsbury for my review copy.

My Top Five Reads of 2014

It’s been a strange reading year for me. I read less than I have done in a long while, mainly as I was concentrating on my own writing. It’s actually very hard to do both. I use Goodreads to log my reads and I know I finished 56 books this year which is around one a week.

There were, however, some gems amongst the books. What has surprised me is how much I’ve enjoyed novels written in the English language. You’ll see translated fiction in my list, of course, but I’ve discovered some amazing home-grown writers too.

It was hard to whittle the list down to my traditional five. I apologise for the male bias but that’s the way my reading went this year. I did think about having a top 10 instead. It would have been around a fifty-fifty male-female split. But it has been a ‘top five’ since Crimepieces started. And what’s Christmas without tradition?

1. Thomas Mogford – Hollow Mountain

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I’ve come to this series in the third book and I’d love to go back and read the earlier ones. Mogford is an excellent writer. The books are thrillers set in Gibraltar with a hard edge and excellent characterisation. The place comes alive in Mogford’s hands and I wish I’d discovered this author sooner.

 

2. Parker Bilal – The Ghost Runner

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Another writer that I wish I’d read earlier. The Ghost Runner is set in the Egyptian desert and has the feel of a place existing on the margins of society. The protagonist is a stranger in a foreign country and there’s a feeling of isolation and otherness that make this book a special read.

 

3. K T Medina – White Crocodile

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A debut novel set partly in Cambodia. The writing is excellent and a sense of menace dominates the narrative set amongst landmine clearance. I can’t wait to see what comes next from this talented writer.

 

4. Hans Olav Lahlum – The Human Flies

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Delightfully retro and with a tightly contained plot, Lahlum’s book was the star translation for me this year. Another writer that I can’t wait to read again.

 

5. Barry Forshaw – Euro Noir 

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Not a crime novel but an essential guide to what’s available in translation from Europe. There are some excellent recommendations, particularly from countries largely undiscovered such as Greece and Romania. And I love the retro cover.

So a slightly different list than I expected at the start of the year. But that’s the joy of reading. The discovery of new books and writers. Do you agree with my choices? I’d love to hear.