Istanbul: the sight that greets Inspector Cetin Ikmen is horrific. The girl was burnt alive in her own bedroom. Was it suicide or murder? When her father shows no emotion at the death of his seventeen-year-old daughter, Ikmen starts to dig deeper.
Another series that I really should be doing a better job keeping up with as Barbara Nadel writes about Turkey in a way that's vivid, believable and extremely entertaining.
A NOBLE KILLING is the 13th book in the Inspector Cetin Ikmen series, although it might be fairer to combine that with Inspector Mehmet Suleyman who seems to have raised his profile in this book. (Needless to say I'm behind, so I'm not sure if this is a phenomena in this book or something that's been ongoing). Not, I suspect, would Suleyman be that thrilled with his starring role here as most of the concentration is firmly on his extra-marital activities.
The core subject matter of A NOBLE KILLING is a confrontational issue - the so called "honour" killing of young girls who have, according to their family's belief in restrictive social rules, behaved immorally. There are other elements built into the story - marital infidelity, the class structure that drives relationships, homosexuality, the tensions between secular and Islamic Turkey and the difference that a shift of people from more conservative rural areas into Istanbul is having on areas of the city. Whilst the subject matter is, frequently unflinching, the style of telling the story is measured, often demonstrating the difference between fanatical adherence to an interpretation of faith, and more tolerant and accepting attitudes.
The book starts out with the burning death of Gozde, the teenage daughter of a couple from rural Turkey. Inspector Ikmen is aware of a number of suspicious deaths of young girls, with the coincidence that all of their families become financially constrained after the girls die. Whilst there are some sectors of Turkish society that have always supported these sorts of honour killings, often calling upon young family members to commit the murder as they are less likely to incur heavy sentences, it seems that there's something even more sinister going on and Ikmen is determined to stamp it out. At the same time, a violent killing takes place in another part of the city, the victim a homosexual music teacher, stabbed in his bed. Two of his teenage students again draw the eye of the police. One boy is the spoilt son of a wealthy family; the other the son of drug addicts, his mother a street prostitute, he has become a radicalised Muslim. The investigations into both threads of the book are, however, hampered by Suleyman's professional neglect and interference, as well as the complicity of the the girl's own families in their deaths.
Given that A NOBLE KILLING is tackling the difficult subject of religious and social dictates that are used to control, subjugate and frequently kill women and girls who do not adhere to the "rules" established by others, it is a careful, considered and thoughtful book. There is consideration given to the background of the victims and their families, to the nature of personal relationships where there is a power imbalance and to the consequences of actions or inactions on those family members. Nadel also contrasts the more fanatical, strict side of Turkish and Islamic society well with the liberal, tolerant aspects. She uses different aspects of society and the people to do that. Drawing a connection between familial dictates and Suleyman's gypsy lover Gonca, as well as taking that tension right into a family with one religious, devout brother and his policeman, non-devout brother learning to live with each other's beliefs and lifestyle. They are particularly illustrative touches, in what is a fast moving, atmospheric and gripping book which provides a reader with an immersion feeling for Turkey, it's inhabitants, and a society dealing with a very current day challenge.
THE GIGOLO MURDER - Mehmet Murat Somer
Devastated by a break-up, our unnamed Turkish transvestite heroine swaps her catsuit for pyjamas and becomes a recluse. But her friends refuse to let her waste away in self-pity and drag her out to make up the numbers for a party. There's serious grooming to do before our girl's up to the challenge - her state of misery has left her so thin that even her favourite Audrey Hepburn number doesn't cling the way it should.
THE GIGOLO MURDER is the third translated Hop-Çiki Yaya Thriller (there are seven books in the series in total) from Turkish author Mehmet Murat Somer. If you are looking for something a little unexpected, then these books are well worth having a look at.
The stories all revolve around an unnamed transvestite heroine as both central character and narrator. In THE GIGOLO MURDER our girl (as he/she always refers to herself), is not well, miserable since the break up of a relationship which meant so much (since the last great love and until the next one comes along!). Dragged along to a show by her dear friend Ponpon (another transvestite and dancer), our heroine meets, and falls for the devastatingly handsome, very married Haluk. It makes perfect sense therefore when Haluk's brother in law is accused of murder, that our heroine would investigate. Investigation comes easy to our heroine - a night-club owning, martial artist, expert computer hacker transvestite who has friends who come in handy on these occasions. Which is just as well because THE GIGOLO MURDER sees her calling in favours and assistance from everybody possible.
Reading the three books in order has actually been a helpful thing. Although each of the stories would stand-alone, THE GIGOLO MURDER is the book in which the crime story picks up and holds a lot more of centre stage. The two earlier books are possibly slightly more memorable for their character development and the explanation of the world in which these characters live. The unnamed heroine of these books is a undoubtedly little arch, frequently histrionic, more than a little temperamental, she is vividly but sensitively drawn. The spotlight, suitably framed and tactfully cast on a part of Turkish / Istanbul society that is possibly unexpected, but undoubtedly close, supportive and self-sufficient.
THE GIGOLO MURDER is really a tremendous crime book, translated in a way that doesn't lose the pace of the story, or the uniqueness of the characters and the setting. This is a series for anybody looking for something a little different, just slightly risqué, but with a tremendous sense of people and place.
Translated so far:
The Prophet Murders
The Kiss Murder
The Gigolo Murder
THE PROPHET MURDERS - Mehmet Murat Somer
THE PROPHET MURDERS is the first of six 'Hop-Ciki-Yaya' thrillers translated into English - written by engineer, banker and now management consultant Mehmet Murat Somer. The book introduces the reader to a central protagonist who is nothing, if not slightly unexpected. Our unnamed hero/heroine is referred to as <em>abla</em> throughout the book which means big sister (thanks to the handy little glossary included at the back of the book). He/she is a well-known identity in the transvestite sub-culture in Turkey. The reason for the dual references to this character is that he/she is not adverse to dressing as a man or a woman, depending upon the circumstances. So let's start referring to our protagonist as abla. (Later books apparently reveal the real name).
Abla is the first to wonder about the deaths of other transvestites - the girls, members of their community - tensions and troubles aside. There has been one mysterious disappearance and when one of the girls is killed in a fire in very odd circumstances, her death is followed quickly by another dead body in a strange place. Because the girls are part of the sub-culture it's unlikely that the police will be looking too hard, but abla and her friends are able to find the connection and identify a likely killer very quickly. Finding proof is another matter.
The book is written in the first person - abla voices it totally, and whilst the investigation moves at a pace that would make a snail impatient, it wanders through the life and times of the Turkish transvestite community. There are some humorous touches, although a large number of these are heavy handed, and there is a lot of detail about life in and around the transvestite scene. Undoubtedly this is where THE PROPHET MURDERS shines - it provides real insight into a community that is going to be different for many of us - Turkish or not. Through abla, the author reveals much about the differences within the transvestite community, the hierarchy of power, the older and younger girls. There are also revelations about the sorts of attacks that the community can endure, whilst having a slightly sly dig at the perpetrator's of the abuse.
THE PROPHET MURDERS will probably not work for somebody who is looking for an investigation based book. You are going to have to handle the slightly odd (maybe it just doesn't translate) humourous moments. All of that being said, if you're looking for something very different then THE PROPHET MURDERS provides some insight into a world that is foreign in culture and foreign in lifestyle for many of us.