Mon
Jul 10 2017 10:00am

Review: Dark Water by Parker Bilal

Dark Water by Parker Bilal is the sixth Makana Mystery, where the private investigator's past is racing to catch up with him as he becomes both the hunter and the hunted (available July 11, 2017).

Longtime fans of Parker Bilal’s Makana Mystery series will know that one of the formative events of Egypt-based Private Investigator Makana’s adult life was the death of his wife and daughter. Once the head of Sudan’s Criminal Investigations Department, Makana’s integrity and abilities put a target on his back after the regime change of 1989. His wife Muna had been driving them towards a bridge as they were fleeing the country when a series of circumstances forced the car and its occupants into the water. Makana was thrown clear and has been living with the guilt ever since.

For fifteen years Muna and Nasra had lived inside him. The two most precious things in his life, his wife and daughter, had been taken from him. They were always with him. Not ghosts, but presences. Stored safely within, like love, like the inevitability of death. Until that vision in the market, when he’d caught sight of something that he knew he could not possibly explain. An instinct, a feeling. A conviction.

The conviction is that his daughter is still alive. Her continuing existence was dangled before him to draw him away from Cairo, the city of his exile, and into Istanbul, a city at once unsettling in its foreignness yet oddly comforting in its small familiarities.

Marcus Winslow, an Englishman claiming to be with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Services, has brought Makana this improbable news in order to get him to agree to leave the tenuous peace he’s built for himself and help Winslow bring in a notorious specialist in chemical nerve agents, Ayman Nizari. Nizari is also motivated by familial concerns: his wife desperately needs medical treatment that the British are only too happy to provide—so long as they can lay claim to Nizari’s intelligence and keep him out of the hands of their enemies. However, he refuses to come in with anyone except Makana due to Makana’s past reputation in Sudan.

This escapade certainly seems a departure from Makana’s usual beat, solving crimes that either baffle the Egyptian police or are considered too inconsequential—or perhaps too politically explosive—to deserve more than cursory attention. Yet even as he finds himself plunged into deadly spy games, he can’t help but take note of the serial killings terrorizing the city, which may or may not have to do with the woman he believes could be his long-lost daughter.

Through it all, Parker Bilal has few kind words for the people involved in the spy trade. Necessary as the business of espionage is—and as wildly entertaining as it can be for us armchair sleuths at home—it also attracts the most ruthless among us, men and women very much unlike our hero, whose basic human decency never flags. Here, Makana grieves for a woman caught in the crossfire when competing factions, while purportedly allies, vie for ascendancy:

[Her] death seemed pointless. Someone was tidying up loose ends. He suspected that she had betrayed [their contact] and in that sense she had caused his death. [The contact] would have confided in her, as an old friend, perhaps one-time lover, what he was doing for Winslow, and she had passed on the information to her contacts in the Mossad. The bout of heavy drinking was brought on by the fact that she knew she had caused her old friend’s death. The Israelis wouldn’t have told her what they were going to do. She might have calculated that they would talk to him, put a tail on him, but nothing more than that. In the end it didn’t matter which side you were on. They were all as bad as one another. All that mattered was protecting those you cared about.

Betrayal is the name of the game in Dark Water, from the late ’80s in Sudan to the early aughts of the Turkish setting, as Makana must confront the ghosts of the past in hopes of closure and, perhaps, a new path to the future. The layers of plotting and misdirection are breathtaking as Makana navigates a landscape that has the shifting, unreal quality of a dream on the edge of nightmare. Rooted very much in the geopolitical reality of the Near East at the turn of the century, however, this is another terrific installment in a series that is unafraid to examine the politics and culture of Northern Africa and its neighbors.

 

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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.

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