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on 23 November 2017
just perfect!
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on 28 July 2017
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on 6 October 2012
The Golden Scales has all the ingredients of a good crime thriller - colourful, engaging characters, a strong sense of place, social context and politics, a tangled knot of competing interests and intrigue, and well written prose. For the most part it's a very good read. Makana is a wonderful character with an interesting back story, and the sense of place is excellent, dropping the reader into modern day Cairo and the Red Sea resorts. Where the story is slightly let down is with some elements of the plotting. Generally, it is nicely constructed and it builds towards a tense climax. However, there are a couple of points which don't really add up. For example, Cairo is a massive city, yet Makana meets the English woman searching for her child quite by chance in a restaurant and somehow decides that she is somehow linked to the Hanafi case. There is no basis for that assumption, and meeting her and splicing the threads together is a massive coincidence and plot device that is clumsily executed. The resolution is also a little clunky with Hanafi's reaction seeming out of character. These awkward moments undermine what is otherwise an interesting and enjoyable tale.
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on 12 February 2012
This book could be read as a melancholy song for Cairo. The author, using a simple case of a disappearance, or maybe abduction, for his starting point, he travels the reader back in time and he show-lights to him the everyday life of the Egyptian capital. He does that in a somewhat light way, using a sense of humor that borders to irony, but that's not enough to hide the reality; a reality that's as bleak as the lives of the poor people in the country.
So, he talks about dirty cops and corrupted state officials, who have a lot of close ties with the rich the powerful, about the new dirty money that has been laundered in the country for the sake of some questionable characters from the former Soviet Union, and which allows certain people to make or to follow their own rules, about the city poor whose lives get from bad to worse, about the rich that reside in huge fortress-like houses, choosing to ignore all the suffering in the streets, and about the fear and the darkness that surrounds the local show biz, the sex and the drugs trade.
This novel reminds me of a crime story and a social commentary at the same time, and it's just as well that it does, if I may add. The epicenter of the plot is not so much the crime, as is the society in which it took place. A society, that back then, in 1998, was just as divided as it is now.
It all begins when some bodyguards of sorts, arrive at the boat where Makana, an ex-cop from the Sudan and now refugee lives. The men simply state to him that he has to follow them because their boss wants to meet him, and he just obeys, since he knows too well that he has no word in the matter anyway. As he'll soon come to find out, the boss is none other than Saad Hanafi, a man rumored to be so rich as to own the biggest part of the aristocratic suburb of Heliopolis. Makana knows Hanafi is one of those men that "sell dreams", one of which is his football team, the most popular in Egypt. Now he wants him, of all people, to discover the whereabouts of Adil Romario, the biggest star of the team, who's gone missing ten days ago. Makana, though reluctantly, accepts the mission, since he could really use some money right now, and of that his new employer has aplenty.
Thus he starts his investigation; an investigation that will bring him time and again face to face with danger, but which will also lead him into some of the most infamous streets of the city, into dens and into luxurious establishments, and that will also make him realize that the people who really cared about Romario were but a few; most of the ones who knew him actually were not that hurt that he was gone. As the case will start getting more and more complicated and the good detective will find himself moving from one dead end to the next, something else will happen that will complicate things even more; he'll meet a woman from England, who's been searching for the last seventeen years for her missing daughter and who'll soon end up dead, murdered perhaps by the very same man who took her child. But who would that be? That's the big question that Makana sets himself to find the answer to.
This is a very good crime novel, written in a nice straightforward manner, and which travels the reader to some places that look familiar and strange at the same time. The author seems not only to pen the psychological profiles of his characters, but of a whole city as well. And he talks about that city's essence, the one which as foreigners to its culture, we are by ourselves unable to see. A job well done.
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on 4 October 2014
Set in Cairo in 1998, this is a very well-written and interesting crime story with an engaging central character. Makana was formerly a police inspector in his native Sudan but is now eking out a living in the Egyptian capital. The circumstances that led to this situation are pretty grim but this is not a depressing read. There is a lot of humour and the plot is pacy with revelations nicely spaced.

Most readers will guess some of the solution but there are enough surprises to almost provide a satisfying conclusion. I thought the ending was a bit rushed and I would like to know more of how Makana solved the case. However, this is a small fault in a very enjoyable book. I've already downloaded the next in the series and look forward to reading it.
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on 22 April 2012
This novel is a rare treat. I read a great deal, and this is one of the few mysteries I have encountered that would figure on my shortlist of books to take to a desert island. It features an engaging hero, a fully-realised background, well-drawn secondary characters, and a narrative that progresses steadily but not too slowly towards its conclusion. 'The Golden Scales' is indeed well titled because the author has succeeded in balancing the requirements of a well-written novel against those of a puzzle/ crime in which he must involve the reader. It is possible to imagine the characters continuing to live their lives after the end of the novel - I would like to hope that Makana was able to buy himself some decent coffee, pay off his rent arrears to Umm Ali, and replace his bloodstained clothes. I look forward with impatience to his next appearance.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 June 2013
Set in an unsettled Cairo, shortly after the 1997 terrorist attacks in Luxor, this is the story of a private detective hired to find a missing football star by the team's millionaire owner. Makana is a terrific character: brave, damaged and cynical, a former policeman who fled Sudan when civil unrest made it too dangerous. The story is interwoven with a cold case about an English woman trying to find her daughter who was abducted in Cairo 16 years earlier. When the woman is murdered, Makana takes an interest in the case and investigates that along with the missing footballer.

This is an absorbing mystery, perhaps a little overcomplicated, perhaps too reliant on coincidence, but redeemed by the strong sense of place and the intriguing characters. It moves at a good pace and holds the reader's interest. It's a strong crime novel with a very interesting setting.
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This is the first novel in a series featuring Makana, a former Sudanese policeman, who has fled to Cairo. Like so many fictional detective heroes, Makana has his own personal demons; in his case the loss of his wife and daughter, and his guilt at not attempting to leave Sudan earlier and possibly saving his family. He is a refugee in a country which tolerates him, but in which he is always, essentially, an outsider. Now he works as a private detective and barely ekes out a living; sleeping on a houseboat where his widowed landlady regularly punishes him by turning off the electricity, if his rent arrears get too high.

Considering his precarious, financial position, Makana cannot turn down any work. Especially when the man who sends a car to collect him is not other than wealthy businessman, Saad Hanafi. Among his many businesses (rumoured to be both legal and illegal), Hanafi owns a football team. Now his star player, Adil Romario, has gone missing and Hanafi wants Makana to find him. While investigating the missing football player, Makana meets Liz Markham, an Englishwoman, whose young daughter was snatched from her hotel room seventeen years previously. Now she returns to Cairo regularly, endlessly searching the city, to ease her guilt over her use of drugs, which she blames for her loss.

As Makana begins his search for Romario, he unearths past secrets, corruption and murder. The novel has a great sense of place; with a teeming, crowded, noisy Cairo virtually a character in itself. The extremes of wealth and poverty, the past which intrudes on a brash, almost obscene, sense of entitlement from the new rich, and the generally accepted levels of government and police corruption, all combine to create a cacophony of noise and you can really visualise the small, winding streets and bazaars. Makana himself is, of course, an outsider and you have that threat of Sudan and the past he left behind, also really important to the plot and to him as a character. I will certainly look forward to reading the next in this series.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 January 2014
I liked the background to this novel - the political shenanigans in both Sudan and Egypt - and I liked Makana as the hero - a decent man in indecent circumstances. The plot was quite convoluted involving high finance, old bitter rivalries, corrupt cops, violent Russians, questions of paternity, Islamic fundamentalism and a dead Englishwoman and should have been gripping but it wasn't. I can't put my finger on exactly what is wrong but the novel just plods along to a conclusion. I didn't feel any tension or a desperate need to find out what was going to happen next but I finished it. I don't think I would buy another in the series as there are better books out there to spend my money on but I'm glad of the insight this one gave me into another world.
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on 18 April 2013
I do like the plot device often used by Henning Mankell in the Wallander series by opening with a prologue which in this book is set many years before the real time action of the novel and yet you know that somehow this will impact on the denoument. The big question is how given the two stories appear to run on entirely separate and unconnected lines. And the author addresses this in a rather simplistic and clumsy manner.

But having said that the basic set up the novel is very interesting with the concept of a former policeman having fled as a refugee from Sudan and religious extremism and living hand to mouth in Cairo at a time when Egypt is going through its own troubles. And so we have Makana always treading a fine line between coming into conflict with powerful and unsavoury characters in pursuit of answers while at the same time those same forces having the power to simply return him to Sudan where his life would most certainly be in extreme danger.

And so although I thought the storyline took a while to gather momentum it was well worth the ride and with this character and the basic set up politically and economically in Egypt in the late nineties the author has more than enough material to take his character through the futher turmoil that is set to engulf Egypt. And I certainly look forward to that starting with the follow up "Dogstar Rising".
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