Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What I Read: The Prophet Murders

Once upon a time, a book called The Kiss Murder showed up in my GoodReads feed. I may or may not have shrieked and immediately alerted my boss-friend to it, as it concerns Turkish transvestites, a topic near and dear to her heart. But she could only find another book in the series (The Prophet Murders) and only in English, rather than in Turkish like she would have preferred. She still bought it, read it, and promptly sent to me (along with some pistachio chocolate, yum). I devoured it in my turn and it's now soon on its way to another book friend (they don't know they'll be getting it yet, it's going to be the best surprise package ever!).

Protip: Google image searching "Prophet Murders" is fairly depressing.

The Prophet Murders is a straightforward murder mystery thriller; regarding plot, it is more or less by the numbers. What makes it (and the series) unique is that it concerns Istanbul's transvestite nightlife: the victims are all transgender sex workers whose legal, male names come out of the Koran—specifically, the names of the prophets. What's more, their deaths are based on the stories about this or that prophet. "Jonas" is found in the ocean, "Joseph" turns up in a dry well, and so on. Their deaths are written off by the local police force for fairly obvious reasons, so it's up to the genderqueer protagonist (who happens to be part owner of a transvestite nightclub) to protect his girls and solve the mystery.

Is it cheap and tawdry and Othering of me to like it precisely because it is so different? I don't know. It's interesting, at least, and the unnamed protagonist would be fun and snarky and sassy regardless. One gets the impression that Mehmet Somer is writing not from imagination but from experience and that makes it feel less creepy and gawky.

I cut my reading teeth on mysteries, starting with Sherlock Chick and then The Boxcar Children and then a full-blown Agatha Christie addiction. It's my favorite genre, if an oversaturated one, and Somer's terrifically characterized detective and unusual milieu makes the Hop-Ciki-Yaya* books stand out. If you're a fan of the genre, The Prophet Murders won't disappoint. The perfect reading for the beach or subway.

The books also have a Swedish translation, and trashy murder mysteries are at the perfect language level for my Swedish. Right now I'm reading The Lipstick Murder (Lustmorden, in Swedish), and after that there's one more available at Stockholm library. There's one more available in English elsewhere; the remaining books in the series have yet to be translated. I hope they come soon! My Swedish could use it.

* Hop-Ciki-Yaya isn't the name of the detective, but a throwback term used to refer to gay men. Somer explains: "Hop-Çiki-Yaya was a cheerleading chant from Turkish colleges in the early 1960s, and it came to be used in comedy shows to mean gays. If somebody was queenish, then they'd say 'Oh, he's Hop-Çiki-Yaya'. By the 70s, it wasn't being used anymore - so I brought it back." Apparently the English name of the series is "The Turkish Delight Series."

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