Thursday, 12 September 2013

the golden scales [parker bilal]

Parker Bilal's novel is a detective story, set in contemporary Egypt. The book's Sudanese hero, Makana, has been thrown out of his own country and seeks to get by in Cairo as a private detective. His Chandleresque lineage is evident. Bilal depicts Cairo as a kind of LA of the East, a nexus which drags in not merely Egyptians and Sudanese, but also Brits, Russians, Italians. Egyptian society operates on a pivot between Islamic extremism and hedonistic European capitalism, both of which compete for position and influence. Perhaps this conflict is the one balanced in the scales of the book's title. A key event is the bombing of a Red Sea resort by Jihadists. Only, Bilal astutely locates this supposed act of geo-political war within the context of personal vendetta and misplaced egos. The implication is that of history as cock-up rather than conspiracy, something the world-weary Makana adroitly understands.

The detective novel is a fine surgical tool for getting under the skin of a society. The Golden Scales takes us into the Jihadi's den and the capitalist's penthouse. Along the way we are offered an insight into Egyptian society that the media, for all the coverage the country has received in the past few years, cannot hope to emulate. In addition, in the tradition of the best detective novels, it provides a riveting read as the reader roots for Makana in his quest to discover the whereabouts of the wonderfully monickered Adil Romario, a playboy footballer who has vanished without trace. 

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