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.


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.