Saturday, April 23, 2011

Travel Crime: the Turkey edition

As I said last December, before I headed off on a three week trip to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, over the past couple/few years, as I've been doing lots of travel, I've started to look for crime fiction set in the locations I'm travelling - preferably written by locals, where possible.

For my 2009/2010 trip to Egypt, which included a 3-day stopover in Cologne, Germany for the Xmas festivities, I read SELF'S MURDER by Bernhard Schlink (translated from the German), and THE ANUBIS SLAYINGS by PC Doherty (set in Ancient Egypt). And when stopping over in the Kuala Lumpur airport on the way home, I went searching for Malaysian crime fiction. Finding none, I settled for BANGKOK EIGHT by John Burdett (I had spent about 30mins in Bangkok airport too) - a very fortuitious purchase - it was excellent.

Then over last Xmas/New Years I bought and read PHNOM PENH EXPRESS by Johan Smits (set in Cambodia), as well as another John Burdett book, BANGKOK HAUNTS, which was set in both Thailand and Cambodia. I didn't manage to find any Vietnam-set crime fiction, although I did find a fantastic bookstore in Hanoi, that provided me with plenty of quality reading to kickstart 2011.

Now today I am arriving in Istanbul, Turkey, on my latest travel adventure (I'm going to Gallipoli for Anzac Day, which is a pretty cool thing for Aussies and Kiwis). So I've scored myself some Turkish-set mystery reading for my trip; THE JANISSARY TREE by Jason Goodwin.

THE JANISSARY TREE is Goodwin's first novel in his internationally acclaimed Yashim detective series, set in 1830s Istanbul. It won the Edgar Award, so I'm really looking forward to giving it a read. Here's a synopsis:

The year is 1836. Europe is modernizing, and the sultan of the Ottoman Empire feels he has no choice but to follow suit. But just as he's poised to announce sweeping political change, a wave of murders threatens the fragile balance of power in his court. Who is behind the killings?

Deep in the Abode of Felicity, the most forbidden district of Topkapi Palace, the sultan - ruler of the Black Sea and the White, ruler of Rumelia and Mingrelia, lord of Anatolia and Ionia, Romania and Macedonia, Protector of the Holy Cities, steely rider through the realms of bliss - announces, "Send for Yashim." Leading us through the palace's luxurious seraglios and Istanbul's teeming streets, Yashim places together the clues.

He is not alone. He depends on the wisdom of a dyspeptic Polish ambassador, a transsexual dancer, and the Creole-born queen mother. He manages to find sweet salvation in the arms of another man's wife (this is not your everyday eunuch!). And he introduces us to the Janissaries.

For four hundred years, they were the empire's elite soldiers. But they grew too powerful, and ten years earlier the sultan had them crushed. Are the Janissaries staging a brutal comeback? And if they are, how can they be stopped without throwing Istanbul into political chaos?

Have you read THE JANISSARY TREE, or any of Goodwin's other Yashim books? Have you read any other Turkish-set crime or mystery fiction? Do you like reading crime novels set in 'exotic' places and/or travel destinations you may visit? Comments welcome.


  1. Craig - Have a safe trip, and I hope you'll enjoy both your travel experience and The Janissary Tree. Like you, I enjoy books set in places I go; it does give one a sense of where one's going, doesn't it?

  2. I haven't read this one, but I am planning to read Hotel Bosphorus by a Turkish author - Norman has just reviewed the book on Crime Scraps. There are also those transvestite ones, which I haven't read but Karen has reviewed at least one of them, positively, at Euro Crime. I hope you enjoy your travels!

  3. Craig-I haven't read The Janissary Tree but did read and review on Euro Crime numbers 2 and 3 in the series.
    Not knowing anything about the Ottoman Empire during this period The Snake Stone and The Bellini Card both were very informative and enjoyable reads.
    As Maxine said I have just finished Hotel Bosphorus and was a little disappointed.
    I am sure you will be very moved going to Gallipoli on ANZAC Day. My wife's grandfather [Royal Australian Navy] survived the Dardanelles Campaign but died near the end of the war in 1918.

  4. Craig,

    I've read _The Janissary Tree_ and have _The Bellini Card_ at hand. I was happy with the first one and intend to read more.

    Another series set in Turkey is by Barbara Nadel, and it's a great series. The setting is contemporary, and the setting is what makes the books something special. I've put the Goodwin books on hold while I work my way through Nadel's series.

  5. Caron Eastgate DannApril 23, 2011 at 11:27 PM

    A good crime novel set in Bangkok and Chiang Mai is Behind the Night Bazaar, by Angela Savage (Text, 2006). Savage spent six years living in Asia, in Vientiane, Hanoi and Bangkok. She set up the Australian Red Cross HIV/AIDS sub-regional program. Unlike many crime novels set in 'exotic' locations, she does not make crime look in any way exciting or glamorous. Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for unpublished ms. It is the first novel to feature Jayne Keeney PI. Her second novel featuring the same protagonist, The Half-Child, has recently been published. Again, it is set in Thailand (Pattaya) and was written in 2008 when she was living with her family in Cambodia. Her partner, Andrew Nette, is also a crime writer.

  6. This is all fascinating, and noteworthy, adding to the TBR list.

    Hope you read Hotel Bosphorus and write a review, as more voices are needed on this one.

    The website is great, and am looking forward to reading your Henning Mankell interview.

  7. I enjoyed the Janissary Tree, and Bangkok 8. Happy travels and happy reading.

  8. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on the book. I have just started birds without wings set in the early 1900's in Turkey. Need more time to read though!!!