The Ethical Assassin
The Sultan's Seal
W.W. Norton & Co. / 384 pages / $24.95
The Ottoman Empire conjures up images of decadence, intrigue and secrecy, which makes it surprising that this time period is hardly explored in crime fiction. Along comes anthropologist and scholar Jenny White to delve into the sumptuous depths and murky conflicts of that earlier time, delivering a thoughtful, highly absorbing debut with a compelling mystery at its center.
Kamil Pasha, a magistrate in the newly formed secular courts of the late 1880s, is asked to investigate the murder of a young English governess found drowned in the river. Immediately, the case becomes complex because of a connection to the English ambassador and his comely daughter Sybil, whose independent thinking and choice witticisms infuriate and tantalize Kamil.
But is the case about political tensions between Eastern and Western culture or something more personal? White teases out the answers, using a multilayered narrative that probes how upbringing, background and gender play vital roles in one's place in Ottoman Turkey - and how the winds of change may prove catastrophic.
Sarah Weinman reviews crime fiction monthly for The Sun. Visit her at sarahweinman.com.