An honourable death?

Barbara Nadel is a seriously good crime writer. And she's getting better. Her likeable Turkish detective Cetin Ikmen has now been on the crime novel scene for some time, and her early novels were often compared with Donna Leon - they have quite a lot in common, exotic backgrounds in Venice and Istanbul, great background writing and characterisation - you're as aware of Ikmen's family as you are of Brunetti's in the Leon adventures. And a solid crime story at the heart of the novel. Lately however I've felt that Leon's crime elements have not been as strong as the novels have become rather more politicised.

The more social political edge is true to a lesser extent of Barbara Nadel too - her more recent novels have dealt with such things as human trafficking, of the strife between the Kurds and the Turks, and in the novel I've just read A noble killing the gruesome world of honour killing. Where Nadel differs though from Leon is that she maintains a great crime story, and this is one of her best. What's also interesting about it is that she doesn't reinvent the wheel. What happens in this novel has been done before by Hitchcock in Rope, which in turn was inspired by an even older true crime. But this doesn't make Nadel's novel any the less, as she turns it into a spectacular Istanbul centred tale, and brings it thoroughly up to date with panache.

The novel opens with what appear to be two completely unrelated crimes. Ikmen stumbles across a house fire in which a young girl has been killed. It initially appears to be an accident, but the fire chief is unconvinced, and begs Ikmen to investigate further following a spate of "innocent" deaths of young girls across Istanbul. Meanwhile across town the handsome Inspector Suleyman is trying to balance his increasingly complicated love life with the murder of a flamboyantly gay piano teacher.

Nadel draws the strands of the murders brilliantly together. She's also very effective when portraying the police as real people, who sometimes fail to notice what is important for the most human of reasons. Both the detectives and their side-kicks get their moments to shine in this novel. It's very enjoyable, well written, everything I love about Nadel; but there's also a serious social commentary side to it too. The issue of honour killing is not confined to Turkey or for that matter to Muslim heartlands. As Nadel points out it was almost unknown in Istanbul until relatively recently - although that might be partly due to under-reporting.

It's a grim read at times, but it's beautifully written. Barbara Nadel has now confirmed herself as one of my very favourite contemporary crime writers, one of the others will be reviewed within the next few weeks...


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