The book cover to the left describes Barbara Nadel as “the Donna Leon of Turkey.” Inspector Cetin Ikmen is Istanbul’s leading homicide detective. He is the father of many children, married for thirty years to Fatma. He is clever, quick-witted, and an expert on his city and the people who live in it. As Brunetti is the product of Venice, Ikman is the product of the city that once was called Constantinople. He is as Turkish as Brunetti is Italian. Two men could not be more different except that each is open to the possibilities for good and evil in the people who surround them in the city that each loves.
Inspector Ikmen is on sick leave and the direction of the homicide squad is in the hands of the newly promoted Mehmet Suleyman who, until recently, was a sergeant and Ikmen’s right hand man. Suleyman has more in common with the urbane Brunetti than Ikmen does. Suleyman is an Ottoman Turk, born into a family that had once ruled an empire.
When the body of Ruya Urfa is found on her kitchen floor, the immediate suspect is a neighbor in the building, a 45 year-old man with a mental age of 7. He discovers the body but he tells them that Ruya was already cold. And then he tells them about the demon woman who was standing over Ruya, a woman with silver hair, a furry coat, and a face that looked like a serpent. Is he telling the truth or is he creating a story?
The case becomes complicated when the police learn that the victim is the wife of Erol Urfa, Turkey’s heart-throb, a man adored by millions. Erol Urfa is a superstar, the most popular singer of Arabesk in Turkey. Arabesk is an Arabic-style music created in Turkey. Erol is the not only the voice of Arabesk, today, he is the lover of Tansu Hanim, the most beloved star of movies made in the country and another voice of Arabesk. That she is, at the very least, old enough to be Erol’s mother does not make their relationship any less intense.
ARABESK is a fascinating book. The group of suspects is small enough that it isn’t difficult to determine the identity of the killer. It is the story, the characters, the history, and the culture and society of Turkey that makes the book impossible to put down.
One of the most interesting parts of the story are about a religion that is practiced by the Kurds. Yazidi and its practitioners play a significant part in the story. Followers of the religion are often outcasts because it is thought that they worship Satan. In fact, according to the Yazidi creation story, when God created the world he left it in the care of seven angels, the most important of these being the peacock angel, referred to as Shaytan or Shaitan. This led to the belief that Yazidis worshiped Satan. Followers of the religion do not wear blue so that they do not distract people from seeing the blue in the peacock. They do not eat chicken or corn either and this information creates some confusion for the police.
ARABESK is a story that looks at the complexities of a society that has existed for millennia and which has been molded to reflect the beliefs and cultures of the invaders who came and stayed for awhile until they were replaced by more outsiders. In that sense, arabesque is also apart of the story. Islam forbids the use of the human form in art. As an art form, the arabesque follows patterns for plants and animals. The geometric designs repeat, they appear to be infinite, and mistakes are deliberately made. ARABESK is a story of mistakes, repeated deliberately to control the lives of some of the characters. An arabesque design is like a maze, offering a challenge to those who wish to escape.
The characters are so complex that a review can’t do them justice. It is an engrossing, interesting, and mind-opening story. ARABESK is the third book in the Inspector Ikmen series; I am going to find the first two books.