A jaded crime novelist retires to a Turkish village on the brink of civil war.
The clichés of noir literature are infamously tricky to navigate, and many of those archetypes and tropes surface in this elegant crime novel by Turkish journalist and author Altan, his first to be translated into English. Thankfully, the author uses both characters and devices to marvelous effect, creating a hallucinatory fiction that reads as much like The Stranger (1942) as it does The Godfather (1969). It begins with a man admitting he has just murdered someone. From there, our nameless narrator (a crime writer, naturally) spins a dizzying tale about the small Turkish village where he enters semiretirement. A world-weary, womanizing writer is a well-worn chestnut, but Altan breathes life into his virile hero with interesting flaws. Taking his place as the “coffeehouse sage” of the village, the writer quickly becomes enmeshed by its internal strife. He falls in love with Zuhal, a woman whose heart belongs to the corrupt mayor, Mustafa Gürz. This doesn’t stop him from dallying with Kamile (the femme fatale wife of a local crime boss) or frequenting the bedroom of Sümbül (a prostitute with a heart of gold). It’s a town laden with gang violence, much of it sparked by the rumor of a Roman treasure buried underneath a Christian church. “It might seem strange to an outsider but after living in the town for long enough you got used to the killing and the fact that certain killers go free,” Altan writes. “It even begins to seem natural for them to shoot each other in broad daylight.” The book isn’t without flaws—Altan is enamored with internet chats between our hero and Zuhal, and readers seeking a traditional whodunit may be left wanting. But readers looking for a contemplative, twisty thriller will find this one unique and satisfying.
A gripping existential thriller in the vein of Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games (2006).