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The Sultanís Seal

by Jenny White

      In 1878, the body of a palace governess was found drowned in a pool. Now, eight years on, the same thing has happened again, and it is up to magistrate Kamil Pasha to find out whodunit if he wants to keep his job. He cannot go into the harem, but he has an ally in Sybil, the bored daughter of the English ambassador. Neither of them has met anybody quite like the other before, and they share the sadness of having fathers who have gone into declines following the death of their wives. But this investigation will involve danger, and they will need to tread carefully to avoid angering the wrong people.

Stripped bare of its literary mystique the plot is more or less as described above but this is rather more than your average historical mystery. Expect haunting descriptions of a mystic land, an examination of the role of women at the time in both Turkey and England as well as a compelling background (and foreground) of a place at a time of political upheaval. East meets West here, and two very different cultures are meeting head on. The Middle East of the Arabian Nights meets Victoriaís empire, ancient and modern in ferment. Itís heady stuff, and I loved the way the story was told from a number of viewpoints a la Wilkie Collins. We have Sybilís letters to her doctor sister; a view of what Kamil is up to from a third person perspective, and the diary of Jaanan, the daughter of estranged but wealthy parents who found the first body. We are in literary territory here so donít expect breathless adventure (although some of this can also be found). Instead be prepared for something more akin to a slow cruise down the Bosphorus rather than speedboat ride that most crime novels at least aspire to. One to savor.

The Book

Phoenix (Orion)
February 1, 2007
Literary/Historical Crime - 1886, Turkey
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NOTE: US edition is different

The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2007
© 2006