THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF - Jenny White
I have to be honest and say that initially the idea of another historical crime fiction novel, set within the Islamic and Christian worlds left me somewhat underwhelmed. Fortunately there is a lot more going on in THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF, although I will admit that a large part of the attraction of this book was the central character - Magistrate Kamil Pasha, who is my idea of a detective. A little grumpy, a little shambolic, a man who is able to think through a situation and sees the clues that others may gloss over.
THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF starts out with the rescuing of a precious reliquary - supposedly containing the Proof of God - smuggled out of a city under attack. Centuries later, the reliquary is in the protection of a shadowy sect - the Melisites, who have kept it hidden in the Sunken Village, built below the city, occupied by the Habesh. When the reliquary is reported as stolen, Kamil must deal with the sect priestess, Balki, who is desperately unwell and her daughter Saba, to whom Kamil feels an instant attraction. When the person who originally told Kamil of the theft is brutally murdered, Kamil's investigation becomes all the more urgent.
The story weaves through events around the sect and into Kamil's investigation from there on. Kamil has been placed in a very difficult position, as he is well aware of corruption in his society. He is also increasingly attracted to Saba and to the beautiful refugee artist who his sister has taken into her home.
What we have in THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF is a number of pretty standard crime or mystery fiction elements - a secretive society used to its own counsel, a romantic entanglement with complication and a police investigator who must solve the crime despite his superiors lack of support.
Kamil is also, despite his historical setting, somewhat of a typical police investigator as mentioned. That slightly put upon persona, prepared to do whatever it takes to solve the case, complicated in love figure, grumpy, shambolic, but dedicated and with his own brand of cleverness and vision. He's certainly one of the great attractions of this book as he is a character that it is very easy to understand, sympathise or at least empathise with.
The sense of place in this book is reasonably good, although action outside the sect perhaps isn't particularly "Turkish 1800's". The religious elements set the book firmly in a world that is very different from a standard Western society - historical or not.
There are parts of the story that drag a little, and there is sometimes a little too much wallowing around in the comings and goings of the sect and their priestess which certainly add to the historical aspects, but slows the pace too much to remain enjoyable. Having said that, there is exoticism in the story and the character of Kamil is definitely worth sticking with it for.
THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF is the second novel featuring Kamil - the first was THE SULTAN'S SEAL which was shortlisted for the Ellis Peters Historical Crime Award. You certainly won't be lost if you haven't read the first book, but Kamil is somebody that you might want to get to know a little more. I will be keeping my own eyes open for a copy of the first book.
Constantinople, May 1453. In the dying days of the Byzantine Empire, as 7000 armed men prepare to defend the city against the might of the Ottoman Turks, Isaak and his family are entrusted with a purple velvet bundle. Inside is a silver reliquary carved with the figure of a weeping angel and an inscription 'Behold the Proof of Chora, Container of the Uncontainable'. It holds proof of God's existence.
In Istanbul in 1887: the local magistrate, Kamil Pasha, is plagued by thefts of antiquities from mosques and churches that, within days, appear for sale in Europe. In addition, there has been a series of murders in which the bodies bear the mark of angel's wings. Could this be connected to the rumours of an ancient cult?