Book covers


      Esmahan Aykol: Divorce Turkish Style.

        Bitter Lemon Press, £ 8.99.    Pages 228 ISBN:9781908524577

Tourists who sail the Bosporus will be disappointed by the affluent homes that today line the Asian coastline of Istanbul.  Exotic life has been displaced by ubiquitous middle class aspiration, and complex tradition conquered by the stifling conformity of the economically fortunate.  Istanbul, though, remains the most interesting capital in Europe.  Ex-law student, journalist and bar tender Esmahan Aykol lives in Berlin and Istanbul.  If one had to choose between the two cities for a location for a series of crime novels, the choice is obvious.  Compared to Istanbul, Berlin is dull.

Divorce Turkish Style is the third Kati Hirschel murder mystery to be published by Bitter Lemon Press. All are set in Istanbul.  As before, Esmahan not only provides a satisfying mystery but also makes maximum use of a fascinating city and its wide contrasts.

The private detective, Kati Hirschel, owns a crime bookshop and she also investigates the occasional murder.  The notion is whimsical but it suits the light ironical tone that Aykol uses to describe the society of Istanbul.  Because the bookshop does not make a lot of money, Aykol cannot afford a motor car.   Few detectives these days have to borrow a vehicle to visit a witness.  Readers will encounter surprises about Turkish society. The changes in the relationship between the secular and spiritual are acute in the novels of Aykol.  Ironies are everywhere, and the detective, Kati Hirschel, delves into complicated lives loaded with contradiction.  Hirschel is not shy about commenting about the delusions and hypocrisies that she discovers.  Indeed there are moments when she is willing to share with readers how the peculiarities of Istanbul baffle her.  Insecurity is widespread, and the need to protect and be protected obliges the characters of Divorce Turkish Style to interfere in the lives of others. 

As all three novels have appeal, not everyone will agree that Divorce Turkish Style is the best so far but it felt that way to me.   Aykol follows the advice of Raymond Chandler and avoids making the story about the detective.  In the other two murder mysteries Hirschel was also a key protagonist in the plot with a vested interest in the fortunes of the characters.  Those books may have been more ambitious but the approach recommended by Chandler suits the light and conversational tone and allows the reader to suspend disbelief about the situation of the detective.  Emphasis is given to a satisfying mystery that leaves the reader wondering not only who committed the murder but also how the victim died.   Physical detail is important to the explanation, and Aykol reveals a good knowledge of forensic science.

Most important, though, are the tour around Istanbul, the revelations about the greed, abuse and exploitation that exists in Turkish society, and acquaintance with characters whose lives are shaped by forces that oblige them to mould the lives of others.   Divorce Turkish Style should make tourists want to return to the great City.  And,considering the romance of Istanbul and the achievement of Esmahan Aykol, who can blame them. 

By Howard Jackson.