This is first book in a historical mystery series about Kamil Pasha who is a magistrate in Istanbul in 1886. It’s part of my 1st in a series challenge. A second book has been published and a third is coming out next year.

The structure of the novel is a bit different than usual. One part, written in present tense and in the third person, follows Kamil Pasha’s investigations. Another point-of-view character is Jaanan Hanoum (spelling? This is again an audio book), a young Turkish woman who tells her story in first person and in the past tense. The third POV character is Sybil who is the daughter of the British ambassador. She writes about her experiences in Istanbul to her sister who lives in England.

The body of a young European woman is found from the Bosporus. Kamil Pasha is alerted to investigate and he soon founds out that she was murdered. He asks the British ambassador if he knows the woman and finds out that her name was Mary Dixon and that she was a governess in the sultan’s harem. This makes his work harder because as a man he can’t speak to the Turkish women. However, the ambassador’s daughter Sybil volunteers to find out what she can. Reluctantly, Kamil agrees.

Kamil investigates together with his right hand, the Jewish doctor Michel (spelling?). Soon, they see a connection with a young Englishwoman who was murdered ten years ago. Kamil’s predecessor lost his job because he couldn’t solve the case. Kamil is determined that the same won’t happen to him.

In Jaanan’s part of the book she remembers her life. After her father took a second wife, Jaanan and her mother moved to her uncle’s house and Janaan grew up there. She gets her own female companion and enjoys studies with her tutor. Later, she becomes Mary Dixon’s friend.

Sybil writes to her sister about the investigation and their father who is still grieving their mother who died some years ago. He does his best to do his job but has to rely more and more on Sybil. Similarly, Kamil’s own father is an opium addict. We also see Sybil when she does her own investigations.

Kamil seems to be somewhat atypical character: he believes in science and progress, and he studied in Oxford.

The mystery part of the book is quite slow and Jaanan’s chapters which are set in the past slow it down even more. However, the atmosphere of Istanbul and the old Ottoman Empire are very well done. They are almost a character by themselves. White also describes the Islamic politics and customs skillfully; they seem to be bigger part of the book than the plot. Yet, there aren’t many info dumps at all; mostly there are people holding different opinions or Sybil telling something in her letters.

The book has a very good historical feel to it, however, the mystery seem to be secondary to the setting. That’s not a complaint, though; I love that in historical fiction.

Note to people who don’t want to be surprised by it (like me): there’s one rape scene in the book but it’s actually relevant to the plot and not just titillation to the reader.

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