Byzantium, Constantinople, and finally, Istanbul. Whatever the name, this ancient city that bridges Europe and Asia has long inspired writers with its busy harbor, labyrinthine underground, and magnificent buildings. The capital of Turkey it is the fourth largest city proper in the world with a population of 12.6 million.
Several mystery authors have used this ancient city as the setting for three very different mystery series. Different in their periods and characters, but similar in their intriguing descriptions of the place and its diverse population.
British author Barbara Nadel has set her series in contemporary Istanbul. Her detective, Inspector Cetin Ikmen, is a chain smoking, police detective with a very large family and an interesting team of colleagues. Only the first two books in the series have been published in the United States, but hopefully the other nine will be forthcoming. The crimes and characters are both well written and full of atmosphere. Start with Belshazzar’s Daughter, which begins with a bizarre murder in the Russian emigre community.
Jason Goodwin’s The Janissary Tree won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the Macavity in 2007. His detective, Yashim Togalu, serves the Ottoman sultan in 1830’s Istanbul. Yashim is supported by interesting characters including a defunct Ambassador of Poland and the Valide, the sultan’s mother. The plots are typically based on political situations of the time and the setting is ripe with the smells and sights of the ancient city and port.
Go back another 13 centuries when the city was known to the world as Byzantium, capital to the 6th century Roman Empire for Mary Reed’s John the Eunuch series. John serves as the Lord Chamberlain in Justinian’s very newly Christian court. The politics and machinations are every bit as outrageous as the Roman Roman Empire with everyone jockeying for power and protection against a backdrop of old religions and bickering courtiers.