Istanbul ranks as one of the strangest places I’ve ever visited. After living in Greece where the Ottoman influence is still visible, although perhaps not as much as you would expect, I was fairly blasé about my trip to Turkey. However on landing in Istanbul I was confronted by a city with a unique character that was both daunting and disorientating. I found it to be a city straddling the cultures of East and West and with its dark alleyways and sultry evenings, an ideal setting for a thriller.
The Istanbul Puzzle by Laurence O’ Bryan is a thriller set in the heart of the city, in the Sultanahmet around Hagia Sophia. Sean Ryan is a scientist and director of a company funded by UNESCO to look at the mosaics in the famous museum. When his colleague, Alek Zegliwski, is found beheaded near Hagia Sophia he flies out to Turkey to identify the body and discover what happened to his colleague. He comes under the scrutiny of the British Consulate, Turkish police and Alek’s assassins as he tries to identify photographs of mosaics not found in the museum. British diplomat Isabel Sharp agrees to help him in his task and his quest takes him from Turkey, to Iraq and finally London where the puzzle is eventually solved.
When a book has ‘puzzle’ in its title it is difficult to avoid comparisons with the Da Vinci code which is a shame as this was an enjoyable book in its own right. The author has obviously done plenty of research in Istanbul and captured the flavour of the city with its expensive hotels, crowded public buildings and intimidating security services. The sojourn in Iraq was very well written and I could imagine the beauty of the place contrasting with the stringent security arrangements for visitors.
The actual quest for solving the puzzle went at a cracking pace entirely appropriate for the style of book. There were a few parts I would like to have seen developed more. In particular I liked the character of the old Greek priest in Iraq, Father Gregory, who foretold of the return of the djinn evil spirits, which sounded interesting but was not followed through.
Overall this was a very enjoyable debut and I couldn’t put it down which is always a good sign. It’s pace and descriptions of the city made it rise up above run-of-the-mill thrillers and I actually felt like visiting the city again.
Thanks to the author who sent me a copy of the book. His website is here.