The first book I have chosen as part of my participation in the 2010 Global Reading Challenge presented me with a bit of a problem as it’s set in Istanbul, Turkey which is, I think, the only city in the world to officially sit on two continents (Asia and Europe). However, after a moderate amount of research (5 minutes with Google) I decided to go with the Wikipedia list which places Turkey in Asia. Challenge progress: 1 down, 13 to go. Continents visited: Asia (Turkey).
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The Prophet Murders by Mehmet Murat Somer is a contemporary tale told from the perspective of its un-named narrator who is a transvestite computer expert and club owner in Istanbul. The book opens with the narrator hearing news of the death of a fellow transvestite in a fire in an abandoned apartment building. The next day another of the transvestite community is found murdered, this time by drowning in a well. Soon the small but fiercely loyal transvestite community in the city is fearful that any of them who have the name of a prophet is in danger of a horrid death.
I like stories that show me worlds different to my own and ones which feature any kind of community that separates itself or is separated from the mainstream are interesting to me and the glimpse into the world of drag queens and transvestites was quite fascinating. As with all good books that feature such groups, whether it be an obscure religious group like the Amish or an alternative sub culture like this, the book goes beyond stereotypes and shows genuine characters going about their daily lives and having roughly the same worries as the rest of us.
However, the book really isn’t a great example of crime fiction. The ‘investigation’ such as it is moves slowly and relies almost entirely on guesswork by the unnamed narrator who seems to have the chief of police at her beck and call (they were at school together which really doesn’t quite explain why he provides her access to all sorts of things which she shouldn’t have). To solve the crimes our fearless narrator then engages in one of those silly I’ll put myself in danger and see how things turn out scenarios that always make me groan.
In fact I really didn’t like the narrator, she is instantly judgmental about other people based on their appearance and is one of those people who sing their own praises endlessly which I find just as tiresome in fiction as I do in real life. However she is undoubtedly a realistic depiction and she does look after ‘her girls’ very fiercely. But feeling the way I did about the person who features in all of the action in the book made it a bit difficult for me to get truly swept away in the story as I kept gritting my teeth at her arrogance.
I don’t think this is the book for die-hard crime fiction fans but if you want a break from hard-boiled procedurals then you might like this realistic glimpse into a world I imagine few of us know much about.
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My rating: 2.5/5
Translator: Kenneth Dakan, Publisher: Serpent’s Tail [originally 2003, this translation 2008], ISBN: 978-1-84668-633-7; Length: 234 pages, Setting: Turkey, present day
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CrimeTime UK featured an interview with Somer and another author who sets books in Turkey.