Sean Ryan is the co-founder of a private cultural heritage research institute. One of his projects is to examine the mosaics in Hagia Sophia, the ancient mosque in the centre of Istanbul, with the fieldwork being conducted by his assistant, Alex. The project comes to a sudden halt, however, when Alex’s beheaded body is found. Ryan heads to Istanbul determined to discover what happened to his friend, but on arrival it’s clear that the Turkish police do not want him there, the British consulate is lukewarm about his presence, and a couple of thugs seem to want him dead. Ryan is saved from the latter by Isabel, a member of the consulate staff. They form an uneasy alliance, which Ryan continually tests by determinedly pushing for answers and action. He most certainly gets action and intrigue through a series of chases, violent encounters, and puzzles concerning cultural and religious artefacts and a wider political conspiracy. Having failed to get answers over the loss of his wife to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, one way or another Ryan is going to get justice for his friend.
The Istanbul Puzzle is a political/religious conspiracy thriller set mostly in the Turkish capital but with excursions into Iraq and London. I usually shy away from such thrillers because I have difficulty buying into the plausibility of the plots and gaining a belief in the characters. However, since I was travelling to Turkey I thought I’d give it go. O’Bryan writes in short, workmanlike sentences, keeping the story moving at quick clip. The story is told in the first person perspective of Sean Ryan, a half-British/half-American scientist who works for a research institute. He’s still grieving over the death of his wife and his career is somewhat on the skids and he approaches his investigation into the death of his research assistant with a cavalier, devil-may-care attitude. It took me quite a while to get into the story, for two reasons: I didn’t connect with the first person perspective of Ryan (my sense was that a third person perspective might have suited the story better), nor the staccato style; and I didn’t buy into the plot which has a conspiracy whose logic is not fully elaborated. As the story progressed, the style improves and I managed to suspend my sense of belief as I got a little more hooked into the story. As it nears its end the story builds to a climax, however, there are a few too many dangling ends with respect to the fate of a number of secondary characters and the conspiracy. Overall, a thriller that will appeal to Dan Brown readers.