The Golden Scales: A Makana Mystery, by Parker Bilal, Bloomsbury, RRP£11.99, 416 pages

Cairo’s politics are as dense and dangerous as its traffic, and finding missing persons is an impossible task. Former police inspector turned private investigator Makana is an exile from Sudan who views the chaotic city with an outsider’s eye. When he is entrusted with locating the wayward star player of a Cairo football team, he knows the assignment will bring him into conflict with old enemies.

Down-at-heel former police inspector Makana is a surprising choice to investigate a high profile case, and it proves tough to find witnesses when even the maids look down on him. Burrowing into Cairo’s underside, he comes into contact with Muslim extremists and Russian gangsters.

Set before the Arab spring, when a huge number of Sudanese were subjected to human rights abuses by the Egyptian government, the novel has a dramatic backdrop vividly realised by Bilal’s precise, evocative prose. A superb debut for the endearing Makana, who must pick his way through a tumultuous world caught between eastern and western ideals.

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