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by Esmahan Aykol
Translated from the Turkish by Ruth Whitehose
Reviewed by Maggie Oldendorf

Kati Hirschel is a young German bookseller who loves living in Istanbul and running a shop that specializes in mysteries and crime novels. She enjoys spending time with her Turkish friends, and her life has settled into a comfortable routine. So Kati is a bit annoyed when Petra, an old school acquaintance and now a rising movie star in Germany, expresses an urgent wish to meet with her during an upcoming filming engagement in Istanbul. Kati is skeptical about renewing her relationship with Petra; they hadn't been close friends back in Germany, and Kati would rather go about her life without the interference of the glamorous actress. On the other hand, Kati welcomes the opportunity to show off her beloved city:

The magical Istanbul spring was about to turn abruptly into summer. I would have liked Petra to see Istanbul in spring: to drink tea under the shade of ancient pine trees in the gardens of magnificent Ottoman palaces, to walk along mimosa-scented streets, to shiver in the dampness of the Byzantine underground reservoirs, to light a candle in one of the churches as the muezzin chants the call to prayer….

When Petra and her film company finally arrive in the hot and steamy summertime, Kati's life begins to imitate the books she sells in her bookshop. Kurt Müller, the director of Petra's film, is murdered in his hotel room, and Petra becomes a suspect. Intrigued by the real-life crime that comes her way, Kati can't resist playing detective: "Could life be any more straightforward than this? I, a seller of crime fiction, had glimpsed an opportunity of being an amateur detective."

A handsome Turkish police inspector, Batuhan, interviews Kati, and she agrees to meet with him several times as she tries to find out important clues about the crime. She soon realizes that Batuhan's interest in her goes well beyond his work on the murder investigation, and she finds herself having to sidestep his advances. Complicating her life further, Kati meets Mesut Memcu, a notorious crime lord who also appears to enjoy her company, and she becomes acquainted with Istanbul's murky criminal subculture. As Kati learns more about Memcu and his family, and about members of the film company, rumors surface about a past relationship between Petra and Muller, and Kati begins to sense that her friend is hiding something—could it be possible that Petra is guilty of the crime?

All of this sounds deadly serious and sinister, and, in fact, the events that have led to the murder turn out to be dark indeed. Yet despite the darkness at the heart of the story, Hotel Bosphorus is an entertaining and at times wryly humorous novel, thanks to its cast of eccentric characters and its lighthearted heroine. Street-smart and resourceful, Kati is able to look after herself in difficult situations, and she shines in this unusual crime novel. The first-person narration is especially effective, allowing Kati to speak directly to the reader; her candid observations and social commentary on the ways and mores of her Turkish neighbors and her German compatriots are particularly enjoyable.

Hotel Bosphorus was originally published in Turkey in 2001, but has only recently been released in English. Esmahan Aykol has written several other Kati Hirschel mysteries, and I look forward to reading more of them as they become available in translation.