Friday, July 18, 2008

The Prophet Murders — Community news

A recent commenter on this blog wrote favorably of the tendency in English village mysteries for characters to gather in the local pub and talk things out. Mehmet Murat Somer's The Prophet Murders manages a similar feeling of intimacy, though the center of its universe is a transvestite nightclub in a city of 10 million people.

Somer articulates the feeling of community from the novel's first page, where the protagonist, who manages the club, has just read of a transvestite's death in a fire. "Bad news about our girls always gets me down," he reflects (italics mine).

The protagonist, never named in the book, is not just the manager of the club, he also dresses the part. He is gay and, as narrator and character, he is forthright about his sexual pleasures and practices. By day, he dresses in men's clothing and is an expert in computer security. Nothing like this is likely to turn up in an Agatha Christie novel. Still, the comparison is valid, emphasized by the protagonist's chatty observations about music, television, diets and food and the amusingly chilling gimmickry of the plot (a series of transvestites, each with the given name of a prophet in Islam, turn up dead), and made explicit by references to Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.

Somer makes intelligent, amusing and creative use of at least one additional amateur-sleuth convention: that of the expert who provides skills that the amateur hero lacks. This protagonist has several such helpers, the most intriguing of whom we meet first in a chat room, where he posts inflammatory messages using the handle jihad2000. The name expresses one facet of the character. The other facets may be far more surprising.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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11 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

At Amazon I'm told this won't be available till September 1. I'm also told that some publication called Time Out Istanbul says it's "hysterically funny."

It certainly sounds intriguing. The author's brief bio at Amazon makes her sound interesting as well. Banker, mgmt. consultant, writer.

July 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Either September or December, according to the source. I'm guessing Time Out Istanbul is related to the Time Out guides published in so many cities. They're generally pretty hip and comprehensive.

In any case, there are some terrifically funny and clever parts to the book. It manages to take a light tone about some serious subjects without coming up as frivolous or artificial. It's an impressive and enjoyable piece of work.

July 18, 2008  
Blogger The Clandestine Samurai said...

There manages to be scenes of him in computer security and with other people at his nightclub without no one else saying his name?

Is there no part where he introduces himself........well, I suppose Somer could just say. "He introduced himself".

That's interesting.

July 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't think I thought about the lack of a a name until I sat down to write my comment.

The novel is written in first person with the unnamed protagonist as narrator, which cuts down on the need to give the name. How often do you use your own name, for instance? Also, the character spends much of the book among people known to him, who don't need introductions. Finally, the character is well-known in the club's world, which further reduces the need to give the name; other characters meeting him for the first time know who he is already.

I'm not sure why Somer chose not to give the character a name in this book, but the omission is not obtrusive.

July 18, 2008  
Blogger Sucharita Sarkar said...

This books sounds interesting. The detective fiction format has evolved through constant subversion, parody and re-working. Even Christie herself turned so many conventions on their head (Eg. narrator cannot be murderer in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd), didn't she?

July 18, 2008  
Blogger petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

You know, Peter, the more I visit, the more I'd like to get back into reading crime fiction. It was a passion of mine years ago. But you know life. Wherever it takes one, one follows. But understand your change. Judy Dench has such range, but have always loved Rita. I try to include something for everyone, but it's hard to name 4 or 5 of hundreds of equally talented actors. Am glad you came back for another visit, Peter. Thank you! p.s. Will keep you posted on the winners!

July 18, 2008  
Blogger petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Yes,I spelled Judy instead of Judi!Had that nagging feeling when I left. Unforgivable! *laughing*

July 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have never read a Christie novel, believe it or not, though I do have a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd lying around the house. Still, one knows authors such as Christie and Conan Doyle even if one has not read them.

Both The Prophet Murders and Peter Lovesey's Bertie and the Seven Bodies, about which I wrote a few weeks ago, are examples of the continuing vitality of traditional mysteries in the hands of talented writers.

Your comment about Christie subverting conventions is especially interesting. I would like to pursue this subject, and I would be interested in anything further you may have to say on this matter.

July 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Judi Dench could probably do well in any role. Judy, too. But for some reason I thought Rita Moreno might look especially good with Donald Sutherland.

Saying one wants to start reading crime fiction again is like saying one starts to start reading again, period. So much comes under the heading of "crime fiction" these days. But why not go back and reread one of your old favorites, or else something that sounds interesting from a review in the "mainstream media" or a discussion here?

July 18, 2008  
Blogger Lara Diamond said...

The more I read this blog, the longer my reading list grows, Peter. It's a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you've revived my zest for crime fiction (I also love "verve." Woefully neglected word) On the other hand, you are contributing to my curmudgeonly tendencies and lack of sleep.

July 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm happy to keep you ill-tempered and sleep-deprived. I also like verve, but zest has definitely been more neglected not just than verve but also than pep. Verve became the name of a respected record label and Pep that of a breakfast cereal, but no one has exploited zest for commercial purposes as far as I know.

Wait a minute, Zest was and may still be a brand of a bath soap, so I withdraw my complaint -- in part. I'd still rather that my favorite word be attached to a record label that offered music by Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Antonio Carlos Jobim than to a product that scrubbed a million sweaty underarms.

July 19, 2008  

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