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 Gates, Bilal 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.
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.