Pretty Dead Things by Barbara Nadel

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Pretty Dead Things by Barbara Nadel

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An excellent police procedural set in modern-day Istanbul. Fetishism and necrophilia are dealt with sensitively with background which adds to the story rather than merely padding it out. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: December 2007
Publisher: Headline Book Publishing
ISBN: 978-0755335626

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Over the years I've come to dread the police procedural novel set somewhere exotic. So often the 'local colour' is used to cover the fact that the plot is rather thin, the characters merely foreign rather than three-dimensional. As a result, Barbara Nadel was at something of a disadvantage when I opened Pretty Dead Things, but it didn't last for long.

Ahmet Aksu reported his wife missing after he had not seen her for two weeks. Theirs is an 'open' marriage with both being free to take other lovers. It seems that Emine Aksu has taken full advantage of this - on at least one occasion she took her lover to live in the family home, but Ahmet was apparently easy about this. He and Emine met in the nineteen sixties when Istanbul was the beginning of the hippy trail to Kathmandu. They were both part of the group who met in the Pudding Shop in Sultanahmet although it seems that they never took to the road but stayed in their home city and married in 1974.

Emine had told Ahmet that she was seeing someone from the old group and that he would be surprised if he knew who. He last saw her, dressed in all her finery, heading towards Sultanahmet. It's down to çetin Ikmen to solve the riddle of her disappearance. Meanwhile, his protégé, Mehmet Süleyman, has a strange case on his hands. A body has been found on the Kamondo Steps, but the woman has been dead for about thirty years. She was murdered but has apparently never been buried and has recently been abused. Are the two cases linked and how will the fact that Istanbul is packed with football supporters from Liverpool and Milan affect the police? Turkey has applied to join the European Community and reports of aggressive policing would not go down well.

The test of a good story for me is whether or not you could read it again. This is more difficult with a police procedural because you obviously know who killed the vicar - or you should do. Opening the book to check facts and the spelling of names I've found myself engrossed in the story again, occasionally muttering, 'Ah, so that was why... ' or 'Now I understand... ' I had to be quite brutal and make myself put the book down, but I did realise that this wasn't just a book that could be read again but one which might benefit from a second reading. The plot is deceptively simple but the construction is a work of art, with clues artlessly littering the pages.

It's very much a plot-driven story too. Nadel captures the real Istanbul with its atmosphere of being not quite East and not quite West but the city is very much the setting rather than the story. The characters are vibrant, but they bring the plot to life rather than stifling it as do so many other police procedurals. But ultimately it's a very skilled author who can deal sensitively with the necrophilia and fetishism on the one hand whilst bringing home the way that an international football match can dominate the life of a city.

The book is highly recommended. If I have one very minor quibble (you know I have to have one!) then it's that I would have liked at least the short pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book, but then that's me being very picky. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of the book to The Bookbag.

Reading the book made me want to have another look at Magic Bus which takes a modern look at the hippy trail and how the conflict in Afghanistan and uncertainties in Pakistan mean that the journey is no longer possible. For another excellent police procedural, albeit without the exotic location you might enjoy Savage Moon by Chris Simms.

This book featured in our January 2008 Newsletter.

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