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THE SERENITY MURDERS
by Mehment Murat Somer and Amy Marie Spangler, trans.
Penguin Books, December 2012
260 pages
$15.00
ISBN: 0143121227


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Istanbul, Turkey.... Drag queens. Transvestites. Transsexuals. Closeted homosexuals. Out gays. Metrosexuality.... In Turkey? The setting for MIDNIGHT EXPRESS? That’s right. The Turkish Delight mystery series presents a very different world from the Mideast that gets the headlines.

The entire series (six novels to date) has been popular both in its native Turkey, where it hit the best seller lists, and well beyond Turkish borders. Translations have been published in fourteen countries. That its author was invited to contribute an essay to John Connolly and Declan Burke's anthology BOOKS TO DIE FOR indicates his quickly growing international reputation.

In the opening chapter our hero(ine), the first-person narrator whose name we learn for the first time in the series (Burçak Veral), is invited, along with Somer himself, to be guests on an Istanbul television talk show. In addition to being an amateur sleuth, Burçak is a computer expert and the owner of a drag club. He discusses with the host ways by which he has gained "inner peace" in his life.

In response, one of the callers in to the show angrily denounces him. He goes on to taunt Burçak: "I dare you to find me! And until you do, each week I'm going to kill someone near and dear to you, until I've put an end to your precious 'inner peace' once and for all!" And sure enough, that same evening the talk show host is shot but not killed.

There follows a cat-and-mouse game, during which Burçak's every move seems mysteriously known to the perpetrator. After the first successful murder, the life of Burçak's faithful friend and would-be lover, Hüseyin the taxi-driver, is next threatened. Between worrying about her appearance (sorry - pronouns are slippery here) and gossiping with the girls, Burçak remembers to try to uncover "the psycho" who for the greater course of the novel is winning the game.

For the first time in the series, the case, for me at least, becomes tedious (the author's fault? the translator's? my mood?) and more than a bit too precious (a reader can take only so many references to Burçak's resemblance to Audrey Hepburn or his lust for the former Colt porn star John Pruitt). When the deadly challenger is finally revealed, I discovered I felt more compassion for him than for the self-centered narrator. His motive was a totally unexpected — and quite moving — social statement, with Edward Albee's The Zoo Story providing crucial insight into his psychology.

The volume lists the cast of characters at the beginning. It is particularly useful, not only because the names are as difficult to keep straight as those in a Russian novel, but also because there are so many of them to remember: a total of fifty-nine. It also helps somewhat with gender (one is reminded of the line from La Cage aux Folles- "Just who is who and what is what is quite a question"). Not advertised is the fact that there is also a helpful glossary of Turkish terms at the end of the volume.

§ A new edition of Drewey Wayne Gunn's book THE GAY MALE SLEUTH IN PRINT AND FILM was published by Scarecrow Press, November 2012.

Reviewed by Drewey Wayne Gunn, December 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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