Book Review: City of Jackals (A Makana Mystery #5), by Parker Bilal

Publisher: Bloomsbury   |   Publication Date:  2nd June 2016

Untitled-3 copyCity of Jackals My Review

City of Jackals - Kindle CoverA severed head, a brother and sister facing imminent danger, a missing student and the mounting refugee crisis being largely ignored while corruption feeds off the misery – and that’s just scratching the surface of a plot that skulks around the ancient facades of Cairo. And what a web Parker Bilal weaves!

The city and the barren landscape which surrounds it provides is depicted as the most perfect environment for a City of Jackals to thrive. The vast proportion of the population observes tradition, while the brave few (or the bitterly inexperienced) long to change the world. The barbed divide of the population, which stems from the hostilities between North and South, never diminishes throughout. It’s the ideal distraction to allow others to use it to their own warped advantage while everyone’s looking the other way.

What’s abundantly clear is that life is constantly hindered for a widowed Sudanese private investigator called Makana. It’s not the easiest place to live or work if you’re exiled from your own country. His origins often attract immediate disapproval, regardless of his kind-hearted motives and aptitude. Residing quietly on his houseboat, held together by luck, people employ his investigative services and he enlists a variety of trusted amateurs to assist him (even if one of them is wallowing in his own relationship issues and decides to join him on the boat, uninvited I might add!)

Makana’s investigation is refreshingly old school. He considers modern technology to be a cult-like invention that everyone blindly follows and often sees him glaring at his mobile phone as if it’s an alien probe. He relies on the chauffeuring skills of Sindbad and his battered Datsun to willingly abandon his tourist taxi business to ferry him around during an investigation. Each location reveals another level of deception. If a sense of hope dares to raise its naïve head it’s not for long. The case of the missing student and the unidentified head from the river are just the tip of the pyramid.

I LOVE the manner in which Makana’s character is portrayed. Even though he shows tenacity and must wear armour plate to deflect the harshness of the world, he appears ever the gent. And it doesn’t matter what nationality the victims are, they’re still victims and he’ll seek justice for all. It feels like he’s forever searching for the light switch at the end of a very long tunnel at times.

This may be book five in the Makana Mystery series but it can easily be read as a standalone. There’s adequate information to hint at his grim past without saturating the pages. While it doesn’t always unfold at break-neck speed, the pace matches the crime solving techniques and allows frustration of multiple culture clashes in dark, dark times to brew.

City Of Jackals has a thoroughly atmospheric, brute of a plot (and a brilliant one too!). The simple pleasures of a champion technophobe sleuth backed by an assortment of eager, unofficial assistants creates a rare crime thriller oasis.

Rating:  4/5

(My thanks to the publisher – Philippa Cotton – for kindly introducing me to the wonderful character of Makana.)

City of Jackals Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

More trouble on the streets of Cairo in a gripping new investigation for ‘one of crime fiction’s most interesting and sympathetic detectives’ (The Times)

A severed head washes up on the banks of the Nile.

The police turn a blind eye. It is just another victim in a series of ritual killings of refugees.

Distracted from his hunt for a missing boy, Makana feels the pull of his Sudanese past and is impelled to seek justice for the murdered emigrants.

In the dark heart of Cairo, Makana soon discovers the two cases may be connected in dangerous and unexpected ways.

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City of Jackals Author Profile

(Courtesy of publisher’s website)

Parker Bilal is the pseudonym of Jamal Mahjoub, the critically acclaimed literary novelist. The Drowning Light will be the sixth novel in the Makana Investigations series (Published 2017), the third of which, The Ghost Runner, was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. Born in London, Mahjoub has lived at various times in the UK, Sudan, Cairo, Barcelona and Denmark. He currently lives in Amsterdam.

THE MAKANA MYSTERY SERIES, SO FAR…

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Book Review: Beside Myself, by Ann Morgan #BesideMyself

Publisher:  Bloomsbury  |  Publication date:  14th January 2016

Sometimes I think I have made it up. Days come where it feels like the whole thing is a story in my head and there was never any swap and any game.

Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

Beside Myself sees a children’s game turning sour overnight. The laughing stops when no one will believe your version of events, and you’re left having to play along indefinitely until your own mind is staging a mutiny against you.

Helen and Ellie are identical twins whose mother even dresses their hair differently so she can tell them apart easier. But they have other unique features too. Helen’s clothes are neat, she is popular, an achiever and a leader. Ellie’s clothes are practical with a tee-shirt baggy at the neck where she incessantly tugs at it. She is the follower, and not quick to grasp the cruel games that are often played at her expense.

One day Helen suggests they play an extra special game by swapping places. It’ll be a giggle, she tells Ellie. Don’t worry, just do as I do. So, Ellie does as Helen says and all goes to plan. They manage to fool a few people on the way home and it is indeed huge gas, until, that is, they don’t have the time to swap back into the rightful places and are forced to play along for a little while longer. Despite Helen’s protests Ellie doesn’t make any genuine effort to swap places the next day, nor the day after – it seems she quite likes her new role.

Frustration leads to a series of tensions, little ‘accidents’ and tantrums, which tragically see Helen adopting her sister’s ‘Ellieness’, until she risks being ‘branded’ forever Ellie, with all her sister’s odd little traits in tow. The grim reality of the original game continues to have a major impact, as Helen seeks disturbing ways in order to remove herself from the nightmare she unwittingly created all those years ago. Her life is fraught with moments of despair and she experiences countless unfortunate events, and all because she is not herself.

This distorted world makes it difficult for her to fit in. She is given little opportunity to shine. She is labelled, shelved and abandoned. Eventually, real Helen becomes a shadow of herself and is later referred to throughout the story as ‘Smudge’. That’s hardly surprising considering life is not only chipping away at her identity but also her sanity. The opinionated little voices that develop in Smudge’s head are mini characters all of their own, complete with cutting responses and precision timing.

Seeking to explore the darkest of places, the writing allows you to step inside the characters’ minds until you are wholly absorbed by their tortured moments. It was challenging to see them unravelling before my eyes, but also touching to see them trying to build bridges out of the rubble left over from a previous life, where even the truth may not be enough to hold things together anymore.

An absolutely stunning read that took my breath away.

Rating: 5/5

(My thanks to the publisher for providing a proof copy of this title in a recent giveaway they kindly ran on Twitter. I’m so, so grateful to have been given the opportunity to read this marvellous book.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Helen and Ellie are identical twins – like two peas in a pod, everyone says.

The girls know this isn’t true, though: Helen is the leader and Ellie the follower.

Until they decide to swap places: just for fun, and just for one day.

But Ellie refuses to swap back…

And so begins a nightmare from which Helen cannot wake up. Her toys, her clothes, her friends, her glowing record at school, the favour of her mother and the future she had dreamed of are all gone to a sister who blossoms in the approval that used to belong to Helen. And as the years pass, she loses not only her memory of that day but also herself – until eventually only ‘Smudge’ is left.

Twenty-five years later, Smudge receives a call from out of the blue. It threatens to pull her back into her sister’s dangerous orbit, but if this is her only chance to face the past, how can she resist?

Beside Myself is a compulsive and darkly brilliant psychological drama about family and identity – what makes us who we are and how very fragile it can be.

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(Courtesy of publisher’s press release)

Anne Morgan is a freelance writer and editor based in London. Anne’s writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Independent, the Financial Times, the Australian and the New Internationalist, and she was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism Competition 2010. She has also sub-edited for publications including Tatler and Vanity Fair.

Following the success of her project to read a book from every country in 2012, Ann continues to blog about international literature at ayearofreadingtheworld.com. Her first book, Reading the World: Conesssions of a Literary Explorer, was published to great critical acclaim in 2005.

Beside Myself is her first novel.

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Book Review: Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death (Volume 1), by James Runcie

Publisher: Bloomsbury  |  Publication date: 10th May 2012  |  Edition: Kindle (Via NetGalley)

I’m sure many people are familiar with The Grantchester Mysteries, either through the books or the ITV success featuring James Norton and Robson Green. If you’re not, then you’re in for a treat. Having thoroughly enjoyed the TV series myself I did wonder how close the storyline was to the books. Well, I’m pleased to say it’s a mirror image and for that I wasn’t disappointed.

I bought one of the books a few months back and haven’t got round to reading it yet, so when I received an email from Bloomsbury inviting me to download the first in the series via NetGalley it spurred me into action!

Granchester My review

Grantchester 1This volume is broken down into six short stories, making it very easy to digest. Each one succeeds in telling the life of bachelor Canon Sidney Chambers and his acquaintances and continues where the last one left off. People introduced in prior tales are re-introduced later, so everything is nice and familiar throughout.

What can we say about our lovely Sidney? He left the busy city life behind and now resides in the Cambridgeshire village of Grantchester. Our jazz loving vicar prefers whiskey to sherry, yet he’s far too polite to say, and having fought in the war he reflects on his experiences in times of trouble. Although he often neglects to write his sermons after getting roped into crime solving during his daily affairs, he draws inspiration from the cases to help him to conduct more enlightening services.

Given his occupation the world appears to find him easily approachable. Even if he has worries of his own they never show. In fact, he is described by a character in the book as having a ‘gentle face’. But his housekeeper doesn’t tend to agree, as she casts a disapproving eye over him and his black Labrador called Dickens!

And so, while ‘vickering’ Sidney often morphs into a reluctant amateur sleuth, as confidences are shared with him from all angles (mostly things he’d rather not know). In his position he can ask questions discreetly, and without betraying anyone he and his down-to-earth police pal, Inspector ‘Geordie’ Keating, try to solve all manner of crimes: from an apparent suicide that is thought to be a murder, the mysterious disappearance of a precious engagement ring at a New Year’s Eve party, someone playing God within the boundaries of the law, revenge being served along with the drinks at a jazz club, there’s the mystery of a rare forged painting, until lastly, a man’s private life could be made very public when he is attacked in front of witnesses, yet no one saw a thing…

I’m not sure if a book can be considered well-mannered, but there’s no other way to describe it. The pace and quality of the writing reflect the era of the 1950’s beautifully and the varied plots don’t try to get the better of you. What you will find is subtle clues and a perfectly relaxing read built on great characterisation and scene setting. It’s certainly reminded me how enjoyable the television series was and has left me wanting to experience more of it – and soon!

Rating: 4/5

(My thanks to Bloomsbury UK for inviting me to read a digital copy of this title, downloaded via NetGalley.)

Grantchester Book Description

(Courtesy of NetGalley)

As seen on ITV’s Grantchester

Full-time priest, part-time detective, Sidney Chambers is England’s most loveable crime-solving vicar.

Whether it’s a poisoned lemonade or a body on the college green, Sidney is first on the case, with his Labrador Dickens and his friend Inspector Geordie Keating never far behind.

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THE GRANTCHESTER MYSTERIES WEBSITE

The Grantchester Mysteries: Volumes 1-4

Sidney Chambers Volumes 1-4


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