16 April 2007

1610) ‘Belshazzar’s Daughter’ by Nadel

 This content mirrored from TurkishArmenians http://armenians-1915.blogspot.com © pix Holmes and Watson, Morse and Lewis, Dalziel and Pascoe… It seems that every great fictional detective must have a sidekick: an assistant to help solve the case, a foil for the inspector's quirks of character, a faithful friend as well as long-suffering colleague. . .

What would a Turkish detective duo be like? Barbara Nadel paints two endearing Istanbul heroes in Inspector Çetin Ikmen and Sergeant Mustafa Süleyman.

Total opposites in character, looks and disposition they make a formidable team on the job in this amazing city. Ikmen is middle-aged, disheveled and red-eyed, small and grimy and is described as looking like an unmade bed. Suleyman is young, handsome and fastidious, with smooth hands, and perfect features and he is described as being like a male model. Ikmen is irreligiously flippant, a cigarette-smoking, brandy-drinking man of the world; Süleyman prefers a cola and is shocked by many of the unattractive things they see in the course of a day's work. Ikmen is married with eight kids and one more on the way; Süleyman is single and his mother is trying to match-make him with his cousin Zuli.

The successful partnership is based on mutual respect: the inspector trusts his assistant, and the sergeant respects his boss. Since working with Ikmen, Süleyman has come to see that life is a lot more complicated than he originally thought.

The dialogue between the two sizzles with the tension between their personalities, and is underscored by a dry humor. Ikmen: "So the mystery deepens, eh, Süleyman." Süleyman: "It would appear to be moving in that direction, sir."

What makes a great detective series? Is it the convoluted plot, which keeps you guessing till the last page? Or is it an interesting setting, either an exotic geographic location or a historical age long gone? Or is it the charismatic sleuth? With Barbara Nadel's series of nine Ikmen novels set in Istanbul you don't have to chose between these -- she presents us with all three!

"Belshazzar's Daughter" is the first in the series, and it exploded onto bookshelves in the UK and America with rave reviews. The Independent newspaper awarded it Best Crime Fiction by a new-writer.

An elderly Jewish man is found dead, with his body rotted by inhalation of sulfuric acid. This is the part of the old city known as Balat -- with its narrow streets and poor inhabitants -- a district of the city that seemed to have got caught up and detained on its journey to the present. A swastika painted on the wall in the victim's blood points to a possible racial motive, but the Jewish and Turkish communities have maintained a civilized relationship for over 500 years. Ikmen feels sure that deeper, darker secrets lie behind this scene.

When Barbara Nadel is asked why she sets her novels in Istanbul, she often replies: "Because there are so many wonderful places to hide a body there! Istanbul is as much a character in my books as any of my police officers." For the last 20 years Barbara has been a frequent visitor to Istanbul, and her novels reveal an intimate knowledge of the city and its lifestyle. The impossibility of parking within three blocks of your destination, the loud and intrusive nature of the world of main street Istanbul, the glass of tea which forms that hub of the wheel of life in the city, the carnival atmosphere to evenings following long, humid summer days are all insights that will strike a resonant chord in the reader who resides in the city.

Nadel's Istanbul is filled to bursting with a range of fascinating characters: an Armenian pathologist, an elderly German businessman with previous Nazi sympathies, a Jewish rabbi, a middle-aged English teacher with a Turkish boy-toy and a malevolent, old Russian émigré. The latter comes from a nonexistent family, headed by a dead man who possesses a telephone registered in the name of someone who doesn't exist. No wonder Ikmen and Süleyman have their work cut out on this case.

Nadel's training in psychiatry and psychology and experience as public relations officer for a national schizophrenic charity in the UK shines through. We are taken inside the minds of suspects, and the level of psychological suspense builds as we turn each new page. Through former-Bolsheviks and Russian royals, blackmailers and those with secrets to hide, an English teacher with a past history of mental illness, the author weaves a spellbinding web of delusionary psychosis. Çetin Ikmen, too, uses a mixture of his intuition and biographical profiling to solve the crime. His skill relies on his understanding of psychology and motives.

And she understands the psyche of the expat in Istanbul, too. The tension between "back home" and now, between feeling a foreigner and a settled resident, are played out in the lives of the English teachers at the Londra language school, near Kariye. Appreciating the ability to smoke on the street without attracting disapproving glances, a young English man muses, "How different it all is from London. In so many ways." Later he realizes there are lots of seemingly irrational things he doesn't understand about Turkey and the Turks.

For the Istanbul police department, there are a lot of things they don't understand about the case. Inspector Ikmen is advised by the pathologist at the crime scene, "It's your job to find the motive -- unless of course you subscribe to the concept you Turks call kismet." This undeniably charming sleuth with the odd smile proceeds to do just that: he uncovers the fact that the murdered man had been a murderer himself … moving from Jewish victim to a new and sinister role. Purges against the bourgeoisie in post-Revolution Russia lead to an old man tortured with guilt. What is the connection with the phrase "This night Balthazar was murdered by his slaves," which had been found scratched on the house where the unfortunate Tsar Nicholas and his family had been executed?

Explore this world of delusion with an uncompromising detective as your guide. Maybe you can guess the secret of "Belshazzar's Daughter" before the final revelation.

"Belshazzar's Daughter," by Barbara Nadel
Published by Headline
Paperback. 6.99 pounds. ISBN 978-074726217-6

15.04.2007
MARION JAMES ISTANBUL / Zaman

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