Title: The Ghost Runner (A Makana Mystery #3)
Author: Parker Bilal
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (UK)
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Ghost Runner was a sordid tale of jealousy and corruption, of unrequited love and greed, all playing against the backdrop of a sleepy yet dangerous town in Egypt.
I’m always excited to read a new author, and this book was a slow yet exciting read.
The story begins in Denmark and then takes us to Egypt.
Makana, a PI in Cairo, on exile from Sudan, suffering personal turmoil on account of the wife and daughter he lost in Sudan, is retained by a woman to spy on her husband and ferret out his indiscretions. The husband is Magdy Ragab, a famous, wealthy lawyer.
Makana discovers a daughter, Karimi Ragab, badly burned and admitted to a high-end hospital, that Ragab’s wife knows nothing about.
To discover who might have wanted the girl dead, Makana is retained by Ragab, and sent out to Siwa, a rural oasis far from Cairo, where Musab, Karimi’s father, Ragab’s one-time client, hailed from. In Siwa, Makana is roped into an informal investigation into the brutal murder of the Qadi (judge) by the chief cop, Hamama, in exchange for help with the case that he is investigating.
But the sleepy town hides many secrets. Violence follows Makana at every turn, and there is an old enemy from his life in Sudan who seems to be calling the shots. In such a situation, will Makana find the answers he seeks?
The descriptions looked at a non-Western culture with an eye that was clinically Western and indulgently local. I particularly enjoyed the voice of the omniscient narrator and the opinions it offered. The author packs his descriptions with nuggets of history and analysis of politics, all told with the elan of a storyteller, keeping us entranced.
The prose was rich, colourful and evocative. Even when the details were disgusting, as in the walls of Makana’s hotel room in Siwa, speckled with red flecks, which are squashed fleas and mosquitoes, we receive them with keen interest.
The author also does a fantastic job of evoking the setting. Siwa and Cairo are both pictured so well, every little detail in place, that we actually feel ourselves transported there.
Siwa is as different from Cairo, the bustling capital, as you can imagine. The difference between the two places is quite stark. The life and hustle-bustle of Cairo is in contrast to the desolate wilderness of Siwa.
The characters, the bureaucracy in the small town, and the situations there lend themselves to some dry humour that the author delivers without taking away from the gravity of the main plot in the story.
The locale was as much of a character here. The weather conditions, the attitude and behaviour of the people, the life around and how it played out, they all play a part in rooting us in the setting. Bit by bit, Egypt seeps into us.
The author unveiled Makana to us in the same manner. As readers, we begin to feel a regard and respect for the man, for the doggedness with which he clings to the belief that justice must be served, and the dedication with which he strives for justice, even at great personal cost.
I was intrigued with the character, in exile in a time of great strife, in the wake of the 9/11 bombing in the US, and the strife in Israel-Palestine during the period, all of which had far-reaching consequences.
In the background is the larger crisis, America easing into its self-styled role, as the policeman of the world, messing up the crisis in the Middle East. Here the author presents an indirect critique which has no bearing on the events of this story, but still informs the events of the story and why circumstances are the way they are.
I was still a child in the 1980s, and many of the events that shook the world during that time, didn’t matter to me. Here, I was able to see their implications, not only in terms of the consequences in political terms, but also for how they affected the lives of ordinary people.
Makana’s fears for what his country has become are my fears for my own. India too is rapidly deteriorating, an economy in shambles, rampant unemployment and mismanagement of Covid, not to mention rising hate and communal strife. In the face of all these challenges, the rabid fanatics, known as bhakts (devotees), see the majoritarian party’s espousal of strident Hindutva as being the only solution to all the problems confronting the country.