Wednesday 30 April 2008

A Wee Review - The Prophet Murders by Mehmet Murat Somer

This book is as far from Northern Irish as you can get. I thought the first deviation should be a spectacular one. The Prophet Murders is the opening instalment of the Hop-Ciki-Yaya detective series by Ankara born Mehmet Murat Somer. Originally published in Turkish, Serpent’s Tail have translated it into English for the first time. Its official release date is the 8th of May 2008.

Somer has created the most original detective I have encountered to date. The unnamed protagonist is a transvestite nightclub owner, kickboxing computer-geek with a lucrative IT day-job. And on top of all this, she’s brought it upon herself to investigate the alarming pattern of transvestite murders in Istanbul.

Our protagonist, who most refer to as abla -- the Turkish title for a big sister, runs a nightclub wherein a curious Joe Public can experience the exotic world of transvestism. Abla’s club hosts a venue for the dolled up dancers, and many of the local girls have worked for her at some point in their lives. Because of this, abla has accumulated a huge list of contacts and attachments within their tight-knit community. And since the police don’t seem to count crime against transvestites as serious, who better to assume the role of chief investigator when the poor girls start dropping like flies? Abla calls on everyone she knows to get to the bottom of this case, all the while aware that her own life is in serious jeopardy.

The novel is a fascinating insight into a community which I know very little about. Somer, through his protagonist, introduces us to the many types of transvestites and holds their lifestyle up to respectful examination. The book doesn’t judge or try to force the alternative lifestyle on the reader. It simply shows us what life is like for “manly girl” in Istanbul. And there’s plenty to show. He touches on the hierarchy of the cosmetically altered and those who chose to work with what God gave them. He shows us the dynamic between the young and the old girls. And he helps shed light on the various sexual preferences of his large and colourful cast.

I had hoped for a more detailed tour of Istanbul so that I’d maybe lose myself in the descriptive prose, but alas, the huge personalities of the characters overshadowed the setting. There were occasional glimpses of Turkey, but I wanted more. However, there are currently five more books in the series. It’s possible that this is built upon throughout.

I won’t judge the writing too harshly, as this book began life in Turkish and I’m sure a lot of Somer’s literary flourishes were lost in translation. I suspect some of the comedy also failed to make it through the transition. This novel is marketed as hilarious but I think that’s hyperbole. I found little humour, though I do think it was a very light and fun read. There’s the odd typo and awkward sentence, but again, I put this down to small translation errors. Overall, this is a highly presentable and easily read text. I think this series will be very popular.

So, lock up your sons, readers. The Turkish transvestite detective is coming, and she’s taking no prisoners.


Michael Stone said...

That sounds a colourful read. The Turks must enjoy curious POVs. The only book I've read by a Turkish author was a whodunit called Felidae by Akif Pirinci. The detective in that was a cat. I remember enjoying it. I'd read it again but alas the book was lost in the Clearances, 2004. (I sold it on eBay.)

Good review, mate.

Gerard Brennan said...

A cat? Weird. You reminded me of this quote though.

"‘Bad writing,’ says Maria, ‘Dull, predictable; and explicitly described violence against women and children.’ Jane is more blunt. ‘Anything about Al-Quaeda, and I hate mysteries where cats or ghosts solve the problem...'"

Maria Rejt and Jane Gregory in a recent interview with Verbal Magazine.

colman said...

I've got a couple of books by Eric Garcia where the detective's a dinosaur- Casual Rex, Anonymous to beat a cat tec surely?

Gerard Brennan said...

You're kidding! I'm going to have to google this.

Just a minute...

Janey Mac!


colman said...

no surprises in saying I haven't yet read them, but I'll get on it this month

Gerard Brennan said...


You have to let me know what you think of them when you do.