Mystery Book Review: “The Gigolo Murder” Brings Trouble in Istanbul

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By: Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Columnist–

Mystery lovers, if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, put “The Gigolo Murder” by Turkish author Mehmet Murat Somer on your booklist. It’s a short novel based on Istanbul’s gay nightlife. The lead character is a transvestite nightclub owner who dresses in standard men’s business attire for a technology day job. The book is one of three written in English in a series of seven.

On the first page, the reader learns of a murder. The transvestite nightclub owner is able to pull herself out of the dumps after a breakup that’s broken her heart. “I was imprisoned in a chunk of amethyst,” she says. She “imagined … growing old, shaving side by side in the morning, dozing in front of the TV … I loved waking up to his scent, nestled in the glistening golden hairs of his chest.” Despite jadedness and street-smarts, she allowed herself to fall hopelessly in love.

Ponpon, a drag queen and good friend, forces the sleuth to shave and get out of her home for a night on the town. The sleuth falls for the “superhandsome” Haluk, brother-in-law of the accused murderer who took down a gigolo. The heroine sleuth may have been drawn to Haluk out of lust, but she begins to develop feelings for him.

Sleuthing is cathartic for her, and she kicks into action to solve the crime. The reader never learns the name of the transvestite, which adds to the mystique of the novel. She has a love for Audrey Hepburn and strong, masculine men. There is a desire to have a protector, but make no mistake, she can take care of herself.

There is nothing campy about the story. It has wit, sophistication and understated sarcasm. There’s also an important social commentary. Slapstick is not to be found here. Ponpon and the unnamed sleuth are not dumb characters. They’re smart. Negative stereotypes about drag queens are smashed. Books tend to live on; they can appeal to a wide audience for different reasons. In this case, mainstream audiences can learn a few things.

The book comes with a glossary and list of characters in the front. You might think it a tad annoying to familiarize yourself with Turkish words, yet there are just enough to make the novel exotic without breaking the mood. It’s worth the time reviewing the word list. It’s also easy to flip back when you encounter one of them while reading, because it doesn’t take you away from the sights, sounds and smells of steamy, sensual Istanbul.

I’m not a regular reader of mystery or crime novels. Hence, how this matches up to others in such a context is beyond me. Despite this limitation, I found “The Gigolo Murder” crisp, original and a quick moving read. It makes for a perfect vacation book when you’re looking to decompress.

*Paul is an attorney and seminary trained priest. He writes the “Faith, Family, and God” column for TRT. He can be reached at Dilovod@aol.com.