In search of mysteries set in Egypt or Iran

A reader looks for book recommendations that explore life in Egypt or Iran. Our suggestions include 'The Makana Investigation' series.

'Dogstar Rising: A Makana Mystery' by Parker Bilal, Bloomsbury, 400 pp.

The Monitor often hears from readers with questions about recommendations for great books that just can't be searched for online. We love these requests, and can often steer readers toward titles that fit the bill, or at least come close.

A reader writes:

A decade or more ago, the Monitor’s book review editor recommended a number of titles by modern Egyptian and Iranian authors, mostly mystery or crime thrillers or novels that highlighted the contemporary scene in both countries. Perhaps I have missed titles in those categories in recent months. Might you suggest titles for my reading pleasure?

– Kent Hackmann
Andover, New Hampshire

Dear Kent,

That's a great question. I’ve got a few suggestions here – terrific books, some fiction, some nonfiction.

Live from Cairo, by Ian Bassingthwaighte (2017) – In the author’s raucous and beautifully written fiction debut, a handful of people are caught in the chaos of Cairo in the wake of Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow and the Arab Spring.

The Makana Investigation series, by Jamal Mahjoub, writing under the pen name Parker Bilal – This terrific ongoing mystery series is set mostly in modern-day Cairo and stars a former Sudanese police inspector named Makana who manages to eke out a living as a refugee in Egypt – very atmospheric stuff!

The Blind Owl, by Sadegh Hedayat (1937) – An older title and arguably the most profound novel to come out of 20th-century pre-revolution Iran, this surreal little book has been translated a few times into English (the one I’d recommend is by Naveed Noori, published in 2012) and tells the story of a fundamentally changing country through the tortured psyche of its main character.

Children of Paradise, by Laura Secor (2016) – Longtime Iran reporter Laura Secor here takes an intimate, human look at the short-term and long-term effects of the 1979 revolution on ordinary people, and the mosaic that results is intensely interesting – and often very moving.

The Egyptians, by Jack Shenker (2017) – Jack Shenker, former Egypt correspondent for The Guardian, uses a wide array of interviews and firsthand reporting to shape a gripping portrait of Egypt in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and its effect on Egyptian society.

Warmly, 

Steve

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