Turkish Crime

At the Guardian, Chris Wiegand talks with two crime novelists mining very different mean streets in Istanbul: Barbara Nadel and Mehmet Muran Somer:

Crime fiction aficionados know Istanbul as the beat of Cetin Ikmen, the

shabby, middle-aged Turkish cop created by English novelist Barbara

Nadel. A former actress who lives in the Pennines and was raised in

London’s East End, her heart clearly belongs to the city split by the

Bosphorus. She has now plotted 10 cases for the intrepid Ikmen, said to

be “the city’s, if not the nation’s, most famous police officer”.

But there’s a new investigator in town. Serpent’s Tail has just

published an English-language translation of The Prophet Murders, the

first installment of a whip-smart Istanbul crime series by Turkish

author Mehmet Murat Somer. Somer’s hero isn’t a police officer but an

amateur sleuth – and a catsuit-clad, Thai-boxing transvestite. If Ikmen

shuffles and wheezes his way down Istanbul’s mean streets, then Somer’s

effervescent hero sashays and shimmies around town. The characters

couldn’t be more different, but they’re intriguingly drawn to

investigate similar cases. The Prophet Murders recalls Nadel’s ninth

Ikmen novel, A Passion for Killing, as both explore the deaths of

homosexuals who appear to be the victims of a fanatical peeper on a

moral crusade.

But, as Wiegand discovered when he met Sohmer, conflating author and protagonist is a mistake:

He’s as sassy as his glamorous hero, but Somer is quick to explain that

his gender-bending thrillers tend to provoke assumptions about his own

life. “When the books were first published in Turkey, some of my

friends thought that I was a drag queen or transgender,” he declares.

“In fact I’m not – sorry to disappoint.” Nevertheless, his books are

fiercely faithful to the hero’s cross-dressing pals. “Not only in

Turkey, but in many countries, transgender people are presented in a

way that I don’t like at all. They are either slapstick, half-brained

characters to be laughed at, or people with no moral values. My aim

with the books was to do what Pedro Almodóvar does Рturn the negatives

into positives.”

Suffice to say I totally want to read Somer’s books ASAP.