Talk About a Different Culture!

Destination: Istanbul, Turkey

book cover
Book: The Serenity Murders by Mehmet Murat Somer

At A Traveler’s Library, we promise to tell you about books with a strong sense of place and/or culture.  We really weren’t thinking about the unique sub-culture portrayed in Mehmet Murat Somer‘s delicious Turkish Delight murder mysteries.  Several books reviewed at A Traveler’s Library have been set in Turkey, giving you a look at the culture you might experience if you travel to Istanbul.

But unless you are heading straight for a nightclub where entertainers are dressed in drag, you’d entirely miss the interesting crew presented in The Serenity Murders. This is a culture within a culture that most of us will never actually visit.

Burçak Veral, a male who owns a nightclub, dresses like Audrey Hepburn, and studies Reiki and kickboxing. He also makes some money computer hacking and on the side he solves murder cases with the help and protection of his childhood friend, policeman Selçuk Tayanç. And you thought The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo , the heroine of Steig Larsson’s novels, was the height of weirdness!

Veral appears on a TV talk show dressed “modestly”

I looked neither too plain, that is to say ordinary, nor as decked out and fancy as I would have looked in, say, one of Ponpon’s stage costumes.  Refined makeup, short but well-kept hair, slightly supported breasts, a pair of black leather trousers of the latest fashion, and a transparent shirt with a low neck that reached all the way down to my belly button, allowing me to display my lace bra and porcelain-like décolleté.

transvestitesThe humor in this book had me snorting tea out my nose at contemplating such details as modest dressing that includes a see-through shirt slit down to the belly button.  Somer piles on the details like that. The hero(ine) loves describing everything she wears, eats, and the decor of various places. No doubt the attention to detail helps in solving crimes.

You notice that I had a bit of trouble with gender in that last paragraph.  Throughout the book the transvestites are referred to as “she”, so although it is easy to know the gender of a non-transvestite male, you can get thoroughly confused trying to sort out men who dress like females from women who dress like females.

The plot develops much like many mysteries–a string of murders, several people who seem suspicious, false clues scattered around, the trials of the amateur detective’s private life, mounting paranoia  in intended targets, a bumbling police officer. But all the interactions are enlivened by the milieu in which they take place and the unique nature of the heroine. In fact, in an interview with The Guardian, Somer says that he puts plot second to character and atmosphere.

Don’t worry about all the Turkish names and terms–Somer provides a handy character list and a glossary of Turkish terms.  I just wish the next edition would include recipes for the delicious Turkish dishes that everyone Veral visits wants to feed her. I got hungry just reading about ayran, börek, çörek, and gözleme, as I looked them up in the glossary. Or perhaps we could just have a Turkish Delight Cookbook to go with the Turkish Delight Mysteries? Meanwhile we can look at the Turkish food cookbook reviewed by Brette Sember.

Istanbul neighborhood
Çukar, Transvestite neighborhood in Istanbul, Photo by Charles Roffey

Even though it is a fun read, does this book really belong in the traveler’s library? Depends. Mystery novels frequently observe a place more closely than any other kind of book.  Neighborhoods are described in detail, the afore- mentioned food fixation introduces Turkish cuisine, and Veral spouts contemporary cultural references frequently. Mostly this book reminds you that although we visit a place for its history, architecture, landscape, museums–there are many subcultures within the culture of a place.

What do you think? Would you add this mystery to your travel library? Or would you grab it for a quick mystery fix?


Note: The publisher provided this book for review, but my views are my own.  The links to Amazon make it easier for you to shop, but also help support A Traveler’s Library, since we’re affiliates. Photos are from Flickr, used with creative commons license. 

About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

One thought on “Talk About a Different Culture!

  1. Yes, it belongs in a traveler’s library. Not on the Short List, perhaps, but if you mean to see Turkey as it is today — at this minute — then this is the sort of background reading you ought to do.

    Some writers advise taking a book unrelated to your destination. I have never understood that advice. If you travel to understand what a place is now, then you ought read books like this.

    Though of course if you, like me, go looking for Byzantines and Ottomans, Persians and Ionians and Lydians who once tromped around Asia Minor, then perhaps this book is not for you. But I know there are not that many of us.

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