Monday, May 9, 2011

Belshazzar's Daughter

Belshazzar's Daughter
Author: Barbara Nadel
Felony & Mayhem Mysteries, 2006 (originally published in 1999)
448 pages

British author Barbara Nadel is the CWA Silver Dagger award-winning author of several mystery novels set in Turkey and featuring crotchety police inspector Cetin Ikmen, and Belshazzar's Daughter is the first. I've been wanting to read it for a while, motivated by my buddy Mike, who is a fan of all things Istanbul. In fact, Mike gave me the second and third books in the series (The Ottoman Cage and Arabesk), which I'm sure I'll be reading and writing about soon.

The book opens quickly, with the finding of a brutally murdered old man in a traditional Jewish quarter of Istanbul known as Balat. Inspector Ikmen, his young sidekick Suleyman, and medical examiner Sarkissian immediately spring into action to solve to mystery of this gruesome crime. Learning that the dead man immigrated to Turkey not long after the Russian revolution of 1918 leads them to a very strange Russian family called the Gulcus. Led by (OK, 'dominated by' is more accurate) the elder matriarch Maria, this multi-generational family includes the young Natalia.

Natalia is the obsession of expatriate English teacher Robert, whom it just so happens was in Balat at the time of the murder. He's sure that he saw Natalia running away from the murdered man's building, although she denies it. The inevitable mess brought about by Robert's obsession is one of many twisted roads the author takes you down. Another path leads to Smits, a wealthy Nazi sympathizer who fired the dead man from one of his companies during the time of the second world war. So who dunnit? It could have been any of these characters . . . or someone else entirely.

I'll confess that before I was even halfway through the book, I'd figured out where the "main highway" was leading. I even had a strong suspicion who the murderer was, although I was kind of shocked when all was revealed.

But the ride was good, and I enjoyed getting to know Ikmen and his colleagues. Ikmen reminded me of a Turkish version of Columbo, only instead of a raincoat and cigar, he sports a flask of brandy and chain smokes cigarettes. Despite his crotchetiness, he's extremely likeable, especially in the tender moments with his wife Fatma, who in Belshazzar's Daughter is pregnant with their ninth child. (Yep, you read that right! And this is just the first book in the series! LOL.)

I've never been to Istanbul, but Nadel's writing definitely arouses my curiosity. It sounds like a city of great contrasts, from economic to cultural and religious diversity. Hopefully someday I can see it for myself. Until then, I'll keep reading Nadel.