Monday, October 17, 2011

Crime Fiction on a EuroPass: Mehmet Murat Somer

Final stop is Turkey on the whirlwind tour of crime fiction throughout Europe. I have selected Mehmet Murat Somer, a Turkish writer whose highly unusual detective novels feature a sassy and nameless transvestite who begins her career as amateur sleuth in a funny and surprisingly poignant crime thriller called The Prophet Murders. By day a whiz of a computer consultant, by night a night club owner who sports Audrey Hepburn look-alike outfits our hero (and heroine) stumbles upon a series of murders. The victims are all transvestites who all bear the given names of Islamic prophets. The book is not as successful as a whodunit and the mystery is less than gripping. However, the story of these marginalized men who love to dress as women yet still know how to be men in a culture where being out and proud can lead to imprisonment and even execution is the most fascinating part of the book. And the plot takes advantage of some very topical elements (fundamentalist Islamic beliefs, bigotry, gay life as a cultural phenomenon) to show off a world few readers would ever encounter had the book been published as a mainstream novel. By adding a crime plot Murat Somer cleverly manages make material that might be unpalatable to some reading audiences more easy to to speak. Added to all that are the lively and hip translations from Kenneth Dakan that make the books all the more accessible and entertaining.

The protagonist is not anything like a stereotype of the tranny with the heart of gold, or worse, the blowzy lampoon of a drag queen who tends to show up in comedy films and gay fiction way too often. She is just as tough in her guise as Audrey as he is in his day life as the brilliant computer geek. He's as handsome in the daytime as glamorous in his Audrey alter ego at night. And she's a literal kickass having mastered some killer moves in Thai kickboxing.  You'll not come across anyone like her in the your usual pile of crime books.

The series has been given two nicknames since the lead character is as yet unnamed. The US  publisher attempted to dub it the Turkish Delight series, but I prefer the more relevant Hop-Çiki-Yaya series. According to the author Hop-Çiki-Yaya is a Turkish derogatory term for queer people derived from a cheerleading chant popular on Turkish colleges in the 1970s. I like it because Murat Somer uses it he way the word "queer" has been taken back by gay activists - an insult turned around by the oppressed to be an empowering term just like the way our hero and heroine finds crime solving to be empowering.

The Hop-Çiki-Yaya series
The Prophet Murders (2008)
The Kiss Murder (2009)
The Gigolo Murders (2009)
The Wig Murders  (coming in 2012)


  1. Not sure whether they are quite my cup of tea John, but thanks for drawing my attention to Mehmet Murat Somer. Thanks for your consistent support in this meme.

  2. John: Thanks for writing about a remarkable series to end the journey. In reading about a book dealing with gay life in Turkey I thought of a Saskatchewan mystery -Date with a Sheesha by Anthony Bidulka. His sleuth, Russell Quant, a gay P.I. goes to Dubai where he investigates the death of a gay man from Saskatchewan.

  3. I will be certain to hunt down that book by Bidulka, Bill.

    Apart from detective novels with supernatural content I have a special fondness for suspense and mystery books that take place in the "gay world" or feature gay characters. I wish there were more gay noir novels but seems to me that too many gay mysteries are ultra-PC. Because of the decades of previous negative stereotypes most gay writers who write mysteries paint prettier pictures than how it really is. Nothing wrong with that, but I think there’s room for some down and dirty noir in the gay world. I know first hand it can be, at times, ten times more nasty than the straight world.

  4. A very interesting book/series for the final stop, John. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. On the TBR list it goes...although when I'll get to it is another thing. I've enjoyed the Euro ride and you've introduced some intriguing titles!

  5. Wow, this book sounds fabulous. My entry for the meme is a bio of Somer. Your's is much more interesting!