Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Golden Scales by Parker Bilal ★ ★ ★ ★

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A Thrilling Place to Visit

A mystery set in Cairo is not my traditional fair. Throw in a plot involving football and you’ve almost lost me.  However, as I read this first paragraph, I realised my visit to Cairo via The Golden Scales was to be thrilling, led by a writer who knows how to open with a punch.
“The bright light struck her full in the eyes and for an instant she was blinded, as if struck by some ancient curse. Liz Markham reared back, completely stalled by the human mass that confronted her.  Her heart racing, she began to run.  Her child was somewhere out there, lost in this madness.”
By the time I’d turned the first page, I knew another thing, London born author Parker Bilal (pen-name of  Jamal Mahjoub) could write and pace with the best mystery thriller authors.  This from an writer classified as a literary novelist—which I usually take to mean ‘can turn a beautiful praise but the pace is slow.’ 
The Golden Scales introduces us to Makana, an exiled Sudanese private investigator, living on a run-down Nile houseboat.  Hired by wealthy Hanafi, owner of Cairo’s star football team, he finds himself investigating the team’s star player Adil Romario.
Everything is a closely held mystery until the last few pages: What happened to Makana’s wife and daughter years before? Why did the powerful Hanafi hire the lowly Makana?  What does a twenty-year-old case of a missing child and her English mother Liz have to do with his investigation?
As layers of sub-plots and colourful characters are paved, you are drawn into a fascinating world of the wealthy and glamorous of Cairo and just as quickly plunged into the dark and cutthroat life of the criminal underworld.  The links between the two revealing themselves the deeper Makana pursues his leads.
This is Egypt without the pyramids but peopled with dark characters, intriguing back stories and a stoic, intelligent lead character, who carries himself with credible assurance.   
Bilal has created a character and setting thriller lovers will be eager to visit again and again.  The Golden Scales is the first of a detective series featuring Makana and this is one reader who looks forward to my next visit to Egypt, with our without pyramids.


Parker Bilal is the pseudonym of Jamal Mahjoub. Mahjoub has published seven critically acclaimed literary novels, which have been widely translated.
Born in London, he has lived at various times in the UK, Sudan, Cairo and Denmark. He currently lives in Barcelona. Visit to learn more about this author.
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia for my review copy of 'The Golden Scales'. Visit Bloomsbury ANZ for more information on their other fabulous titles.

Purchase this book from Allen & Unwin 
Available Now RRP $29.99

Monday, June 11, 2012

An Unfamiliar Murder ★ ★★ ★- Jane Isaac

The DNA of Murder 

            You know it is going to be a page-turner when in the first chapter a strange body turns up in the home of the protagonist, Anna Cottrell, who is not a spy but just your average school teacher. 
            After the police accept Anna is not the murderer and release her, she then discovers that she and the murder victim are linked and that perhaps her past is not exactly as she was led to believe.  What is even more frightening is that those past secrets could quite possibly place her and her boyfriend Ross in extreme danger.  When he goes missing Anna determines she must uncover those secrets or she may never see Ross again.

            “I am fascinated by what happens when extraordinary things happen to ordinary people,’’ says Author Jane Isaac.  “Apart from the odd parking fine or speeding ticket, most of our lives are untouched by law enforcement. For ‘An Unfamiliar Murder’, I played with the idea of a perfectly normal person finding themselves out of the realms of normality.  I wondered how Anna would feel and react to finding a dead body in her flat and spending a night in a cell.”
            Also attempting to unravel the secrets is investigating officer, DCI Helen Lavery, an ambitious woman who juggles her very demanding job life with that of a single Mom to teenage sons.  When Anna Cottrell’s murder case lands on her desk, she soon realizes it is far more complicated than she first expected.  After DNA evidence leads her on a chase through Anna’s family tree, she begins to fear that if she cannot find the killer soon there will be more victims.
            Readers are certainly taken on a merry chase following DCI Lavery as she solves the murder. Isaac felt that very early on in the writing of her debut novel she could do a lot more with Lavery’s character and is currently working on a sequel to ‘An Unfamiliar Murder’, and there are also plans for a third book in the series. It would seem that for the new found fans of Helen Lavery, she will become very familiar to readers in the next few years.

About Jane

Jane Isaac lives in rural Northamptonshire, UK with her husband, daughter and dog, Bollo. Jane studied creative writing, and later specialist fiction with the London School of Journalism.
Jane blogs about her writing experience, 'Diary of a Newbie Novelist' at She is also co-author at the Pyjama Club.
Two of Jane's short stories, Duplicity and Perilous Truths, will appear in Crime Anthologies released in 2012 by Rainstorm Press and Bridge House Publishing. An Unfamiliar Murder is her first novel.

An Unfamiliar Murder is available from

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