Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review of The Gigolo Murder by Mehmet Murat Somer (Penguin, 2009, Turkish 2003)

In a funk after his boyfriend dumps him, the anonymous transvestite narrator of the story has locked himself away in his Istanbul apartment, ignoring the drag queen club he owns and the computer company he hacks for.  Worried about his welfare, close friend and fellow drag queen, Ponpon, comes to rescue and rehabilitates him, before dragging him out to the club he performs in.  There he meets a handsome lawyer, Haluk, immediately becoming smitten despite the presence of his wife.  During their encounter, Haluk receives a phone call to say his wife’s brother, Faruk, a rich moneylender, has been arrested for the murder of Volkan, a minibus driver and noted gigolo.  Solving the murder might endear the sometime amateur sleuth to the lawyer, so dressed like his heroine, Audrey Hepburn, he sets about snooping, visiting Volkan’s dysfunctional family and some of his lovers, and also catching up on some of his hacking duties, which appear to have some bearing on the case.  Then the accused is killed shortly after our hero(ine)’s visit and things really start to hot up.

The unusual twist in Somer’s Hop-Çiki-Yaya series set in Istanbul, Turkey, is the amateur sleuth: a gay, transvestite drag queen, who is vain, camp, catty, impulsive, dramatic, brave, and wears his heart on his expensively clad sleeve.  He’s also a dab hand at Thai boxing and a skilled computer hacker.  He leads a colourful life, surrounded by a menagerie of larger than life and quirky characters and a penchant for putting his nose in where it’s not necessarily wanted.  The result is an interesting lead character whose boundary challenging exploits are good fun to follow.  Indeed, The Gigolo Murder has a streak of light humour running throughout.  The plot is appealing enough, charting the investigation in to the death of a man abused as a child and exploited as an adult by his family, and it provides an interesting glimpse of different elements of Istanbul’s subcultures: minibus/taxi drivers, drag queen clubs, rich high society.  There’s plenty of twists and turns, though it relies on a couple of plot devices at times.  Overall, an entertaining read and a fresh contribution to the genre.

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