Extraordinary insights

2011-04-27 00:00

THIS 13th novel featuring Barbara Nadel’s series detective, the intelligent and humane Inspector Cetin Ikmen, once again focuses on aspects of Turkish life that the tourist is unlikely to encounter.

The rich colour and life of Istanbul are there, of course: Nadel obviously loves the place and knows it well in all its beauty, sophistication, decadence and seediness.

Here, however, she turns our attention to the cruel underpinnings of life, love and sexual behaviour, those rigid, often patriarchal, sometimes quasi-religious, principles clung to, especially by country dwellers (for example, from Anatolia) seeking a new life in the big city. Thus, Ikmen is appalled when investigating the death of a 17-year-old girl, burnt alive in her own bedroom, to realise that this probably was not a suicide, but murder. And, when he notes that her father shows no emotion, he begins to suspect that he’s dealing with an “honour killing” committed by or on behalf of the family, an idea reinforced when he learns that the girl had had a secret boyfriend (since vanished) and was thought to have dishonoured the family by this association.

Forensic evidence is almost lacking, but in the course of their investigation Ikmen and his partner, Inspector Mehmet Suleyman, question two teenage boys — one from a wealthy family, the other a child of the slums — whose only link to each other is music: both are fine pianists, and both study with the same respected piano teacher. When the latter, a homosexual with lively appetites, is found with his throat cut, Ikmen and Suleyman realise that the meshwork of deceit, sexual and religious prejudice, primitive violence and desperation, is far more ravelled than had first appeared.

For much of the time Ikmen works virtually single-handed, for Suleyman is preoccupied with fighting his own demons, being obsessively in love with a flamboyant Gypsy woman, a hopelessly unsuitable and therefore doomed relationship, and one that could pull him into a dangerous underworld, ruin his career and threaten his life.

Well-plotted, intelligent and readable, this novel uses the detective format to provide extraordinary insights into a culture which, while it has strong and earnest European pretensions and aspirations, in some ways remains stuck in the Mediaeval Middle Eastern past.

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