A Turkish murder mystery, love story and cultural/historical panorama, told from three points of view.
White uses a dead body—drugged, drowned English governess Mary Dixon, who worked at the imperial court and is found floating in the Bosphorus—as the point of entry into this evocation of the waning days of the Ottoman empire, a world of eunuchs, harems, secret police, bath houses and bazaars, teetering on the brink of modernism and dissolution. Kamil Pasha, an Istanbul magistrate, has the task of investigating the crime. Thoughtful and honorable, Kamil works at a careful pace, assisted by a Jewish surgeon, Michel Sevy. During his enquiries he meets Sybil, the under-occupied daughter of the British ambassador, who joins the detection team, offering access to female members of society and the court who are off limits to Kamil. An interest inevitably develops between the magistrate and the Englishwoman. More exotic and complicated is the story of Jaanan, a well-born girl whose life is crammed with incident: She is raped by a prospective husband favored by her father; kidnapped by a cousin who has been forced into political exile and is also linked to another, earlier murder of a British governess; and was once propositioned by Mary Dixon who, it seems, was a lesbian.
Although the story loses its way in a fog of exposition and overlapping intrigues, White’s intelligent, sensuous writing marks a promising debut.