Written by Esmahan Aykol — Aykol’s debut novel was originally published in her native Turkey back in 2001, but has only recently been translated into English by Ruth Whitehouse. Although not the first Turkish writer to take up her pen and write in the crime fiction genre (Mehmet Murat Somer and Celil Oker are two other writers who already well-established in this field) she is the first female crime writer to be published in the UK.
This is the first in a planned series of books featuring crime fiction bookseller turned amateur sleuth, Kati Hirschel. Hotel Bosphorus is written in the first person with Kati is talking to her reader rather like she is having a one-sided conversation. The main character is a Turkish-born German who reaturned to Istanbul on holiday 13 years previously, and decided to stay and open the city’s only crime fiction bookshop. Much of the early story follows Kati in her daily life, building up a picture of Istanbul and the workings of society there to demonstrate how different it is from the rest of Europe, particularly Germany.
When a German film crew arrive, Kati is delighted to discover that her old friend, Petra – now a famous actress – is amongst them. However, a storm cloud is looming over this happy reunion, and when director Kurt Müller is murdered, suspicion immediately falls on Petra. Being a lover of mysteries, Kati cannot resist the temptation to look into the matter herself. With no real clues to go on, and refusing assistance from the German authorities, the Turkish police are all but ready to give up on the case. But Kati is not as easily deterred and finds herself gradually sorting through the various clues and red herrings before finally coming to a well-structured reveal.
In some ways, the book does feel a little compartmentalised. Certain characters in this story crop up and disappear or are mentioned but we never actually meet them, but they have a reason for being there, and the eagle-eyed reader quickly picks up that their inclusion is purely to impart certain information that is relevant to the case. For instance there’s the elusive Fofo, who we are told so much about at the beginning of the book, or Inspector Batuhan Ӧnal, who is leading the investigation and develops a somewhat brief friendship with Kati. Meanwhile, other characters such as Pelin, Lale, Yilmaz and Selim, are clearly there for the long-haul yet have no real bearing on the case.
This is a satisfying read, and Kati is a character you will quickly develop a liking for. The pace is quite sedate and you’ll find yourself being gently drawn along with the investigation. The ending did feel a little abrupt, but if you’re open to trying something a little different in an unusual setting, then this is certainly worth a read. We welcome this writers new arrival in English, and await Kati Hirschel’s next investigation.
Bitter Lemon Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars