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What does this title mean? It means that the second book of the series of up to now five thrillers Barbara Nadel has set in Istanbul is better than the first. Normally I buy one book of an unknown author and decide after reading it if I want to read more. I was so enthusiastic, though, when I found that someone had written thrillers set in the city I was about to visit that I ordered the first two from amazon when I spent my last dooyoo voucher. After finishing the first book I was deeply disappointed (see my op The First Of Five) and thought of selling both books, the second unread, on the next bazaar. Regret about throwing away my valuable dooyoo money made me thumb through the first pages of ‘A Chemical Prison‘ - and I was hooked! So someone did tell Barbara Nadel to use her knowledge of Istanbul - we read on the first page that she has been a regular visitor to Turkey for over twenty years - and plant her plot firmly into the actualities and conditions of Turkish life and she listened! Hooray! Four years have passed, Inspector Cetin Ikmen has given up on brandy when on the job, but is still a chain smoker. Why he doesn’t inject the nicotine after getting up in the morning and be done with I don’t understand, he’s always searching for a ciggie or a match or an ashtray, but then this fills the pages, too. More of this later. He’s the born workaholic if there ever was one, but that’s not the reason why he’s even less at home than usually. The reason is his father who’s been living with his family for some years, once a sharp wit, professor for foreign languages at the university of Istanbul, now a victim of progressive dementia. Ikmen finds it too cruel to send his father to an institution, but can’t stand seeing him disintegrate, either, and leaves him to his wife. He buries himself in his cases suffering qualms of conscience. The latest case is a naked,
uncircumcised strangled young man with very soft hands as if he never worked and slightly distorted legs as if he didn’t walk much when alive found on the bed of a room in a completely empty house, there are no clothes, no food, not even a single fingerprint, ah, no, there’s a sideboard with some crystal figures on it and an old calendar on a wall. The neighbours reported the open door to the police, they don’t know about a young man living there, they only know of a man who once, many years ago, came to the house with a boy and who now comes only occasionally, probably an Armenian, at least he wears an expensive ring with a diamond cross. Ikmen’s best friend is the Armenian police pathologist Arto Sarkissian, a character we already know from the first book. He finds out that the corpse is full to the brim with a drug not on sale in the streets of Istanbul, it can only be obtained by physicians. Although it’s not his job to solve the case and find the murderer, he becomes obsessed, the implication that someone from ‘his race’ can be involved in the case, doesn’t let him stay away. Barbara Nadel writes that Turks and Armenians belong to different races, that’s nonsense I’m afraid, they both belong to the same, the Caucasian, race, they belong to different ethnic groups. Be this as it may, we’re in Turkey and the relations between Turks and Armenians are strained to say the least. Barbara Nadel ‘uses’ this fact, but only hints at past problems and sufferings, very wise although a bit puzzling if you don’t know anything about the history of the two people. Google offers contrasting entries on the subject, here are two excerpts: Radio Free Europe (Radio Liberty): “Armenians allege that Ottoman Turks committed genocide in 1915-1916 in killing well over one million ethnic Armenians.” The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “Scores of disting
uished academicians, past and present, focusing on Ottoman history conclude that speaking about genocide victimizing Ottoman Armenians is inaccurate, inappropriate and unjustified.” (If you want to know more - there are more than 9 000 entries altogether.) Donna Leon, the American writer setting her thrillers in the town of Venice, doesn’t permit to translate them into Italian, she wants to continue living peacefully with her Italian friends and neighbours. I can’t imagine Barbara Nadel who’s called ‘The Donna Leon of Istanbul’ on the cover permitting a translation of her thrillers into Turkish what with her touching one of the hottest potatoes possible! Suleyman, Ikmen’s assistant, discovers that the room the corpse was found in was permanently closed and only opened recently. Who would imprison a boy, keep him imprisoned for years, pump him full of drugs, kill him after many years and then ‘invite’ the police to come in through the open door? Who’d send the inspector crystal figures like the one in the house obviously playing with him and pulling his leg? Ikmen learns from Suleyman, a descendant of a noble family, that the eldest sons of Sultans used to imprison their younger brothers if they feared they could become dangerous for them, they kept them in golden cages so to speak until they died a natural death. Now this death is certainly not natural and then Armenians are Christians. Maybe the Armenian isn’t one at all, but a Turk pretending to be one? I found the idea very interesting that when you have to do with members of a minority you don’t look very closely, some peculiarities typical for an ethnic group are enough and you know ‘it’s one of them’. During one of his nights away from home Ikmen looks through tons of files of persons gone missing about twenty years ago and by and by things start moving. As you’ve gathere
d by now I’m quite enthusiastic about Barbara Nadel’s second performance, she succeeds in intertwining her plot with genuine Turkish affairs and this makes for a thrilling read. She likes her stuff tough, we read about fratricide, male prostitution, kiddy fiddlers, rape, incest, you name it. Four and a half stars, why not five? The book is too long, my permanent complaint. All minor characters, and there are a lot, who appear for a second only, get some lines, all rooms are described in detail, that’s simply too much, for me at least. Nevertheless, I’m eagerly awaiting my next amazon voucher so that I can order the remaining books of the series. 6.99 GBP amazon price: 5.59 GBP Ta for your 3p!
Inspector Ikmen and forensic pathologist Sarkissian have been friends since childhood. When called to a flat to investigate the death of a 20 year old, the case becomes strange and alters their relationship.