Wednesday, March 27, 2013

One from Istanbul, one from Barcelona

Baksheesh, by Esmahan Aykol, and The Sound of One Hand Killing, by Teresa Solana, have a few things in common. Both have considerable comic elements; both have a meta-fictional premise (Aykol's heroine, Kati, owns a crime fiction bookstore, so there are frequent references to crime writers; and the client for whom Solana's unlicensed private detectives, twin brothers Borja and Eduard, are working is a crime writer named Teresa Solana. Plus both are set in Istanbul and Barcelona, cities not unknown to crime fiction but less heavily represented in the genre than, say, Italy or France, not to mention U.K. and U.S.

But The Sound of One Hand Killing is more clearly satirical in intent. Solana is skewering Catalonian society, as in her earlier novels, and new-age fads this time as well. The social climbers and herbal-medicine consumers in the book are quite funny, though Borja and Eduard are somewhat lacking in the traditional skills of the fictional private detective. The joke about Solana being their client isn't leaned on too heavily, so we're not subjected to the full-on metafiction of a few other contemporary crime-comedy writers. Despite the murder of the head guru of the health spa that the brothers have infiltrated on Solana's behalf, the tone is light and the pace fairly languid. It's less a page-turner than a light entertainment.

Aykol's tone is also fairly light, but there's more tension. The main concern of our heroine, Kati, is finding a new apartment, after her landlord has announced a rate increase. She briefly becomes a suspect in the murder of a squatter in an apartment that she seeks to rent (he menaced her and she him), but the murder mystery (and the tension of her being accused) dissipates somewhat in Kati's pursuit of the dead man's lover and family, which she manages to infiltrate. The result is a breezy tour through neighborhoods and homes of Turks that tourists would not normally see, with the romance of Aykols first novel, Hotel Bosphorus, mostly (but not entirely) replaced with real-estate lust. As with Solana's novel, Baksheesh is not much of a page turner. The ending, though, is truer to the characters than to the conventions of crime fiction, in an interesting way. Aykol's intention is less satirical than Solana's and more sociological, exploring the corruption and everyday life of the denizens of Istanbul, in the working class as well as professionals and those aspiring to social status (Kati's bookshop offers her inroads into both, which she exploits as necessary).

Both are enjoyable reads and neither is a conventional crime novel. Either would be an effective antidote for an overdose of noir or cozy reading.

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