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.



This article is part of our “Your Monitor” initiative.

To do our work well, we need to hear from you. Share your questions and stories here.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to In search of mysteries set in Egypt or Iran
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today