Thursday, 28 August 2014

Guest Post: Barbara Nadel Introduces Her Two Protagonists

I was incredibly lucky to meet Barbara Nadel back in June at an event I organised for Crime Fiction month. She sat on a panel with 3 other female crime writers and discussed her books, writing and where her inspiration comes from.All I can say is she is one awesome lady. She has a wonderful sense of humour & is so down to earth, so I feel honoured to be hosting her on my blog today. She is going to introduce us to her two protagonists from her Inspector Ikmen books, this is a long running series set in Turkey and book 16 in the series, Body Count was published by Headline earlier this year.

Who are Cetin Ikmen and Mehmet Suleyman?

Apart from being men with unusual names to western ears, they are also the ‘stars’ of my Istanbul set crime series. As their creator, I’ve lived with this pair for a very long time now and so I thought that it was probably about time I gave them a bit of space to be themselves rather than moving one of my plots along.

The idea of, if not Turkish cops, then a Turkish crime series started back in the dark ages of my youth. When I first started visiting Turkey in the 1970s it was not somewhere western people went to for their holidays. Coastal resorts like Fethiye and Side were little more than fishing villages and Istanbul was somewhere people went through to get on the hippy trail to India. There was, and remains, a famous cafe called the Pudding Shop in the Sultahmet district of the city where travellers could meet, exchange information, maybe organise lifts and sit, stoned, with a cup of coffee for hours on end. Now it’s a bit cup cake, self service style upmarket, but I did see at least one old drug casualty in there about five years ago. As a kid I thought it was marvellous that such a place existed especially in view of the fact that the food was so cheap they almost paid you to eat there. But unless you knew about Turkey there was very little you could find to read about it.

I’ve always enjoyed crime fiction. My mother was, and is, addicted to it. We come from a part of London where it was always happening – the East End. But not much of it seemed to occur in Istanbul. Back in the days when local communities would club together to buy winter boots for their local beat policeman, a bit of shoplifting was headline news. Political violence was rife and getting killed in the crossfire between Leftist and Rightist groups in the 1970s was all too easily done. But straightforward murder was rare. Pro death penalty people like to say that it’s because there is no capital punishment in Turkey any more. But I think it’s more complicated than that. In the 1970s and 80s unless you liked carpets there wasn’t much to aspire to for your average consumer. Cars were generally old wrecks, most people rented their homes and you’d generally stroll down to your local tea garden to watch TV. People weren’t greedy. There wasn’t much to be greedy about.

But as the 1980s became the 1990s, I noticed things change. Turkey became a holiday destination not just for whacked out hippies, but for nice middle class families too. Wafting around a still 70s looking, but clearly evolving Istanbul in the early 90s, I wondered why books on the subject of this place were so rare and further, why there wasn’t much fiction set in the city. As far as I was concerned, this was an endangered environment. I decided to do something about it.

There is an old Istanbul legend that one of the last Russian Tsar’s daughters had not been killed with the rest of her family in Ykaterinburg, but had somehow escaped and come to live in Istanbul. We now know this isn’t true but when I wrote the first draft of the initial Ikmen book ‘Belshazzar’s Daughter’ in 1992, the bodies of the Romanovs had not been discovered. I thought my book was a work of genius. Sadly nobody else did and it didn’t actually get published in the UK, by Headline, until 1999.

I wrote a book about a family who lived with a secret they would kill for and, at the end of the novel, there was a lot of blood. To push my plot forward, I used a couple of local cops. One was about forty five, skinny, a chain smoker while the other one was in his twenties, handsome and clean living. I didn’t think a lot about them, but oddly to me at the time, my new publisher did because they asked me to write two more books featuring those men.

Sixteen books later, Cetin Ikmen, the skinny chain smoker and Mehmet Suleyman, the glamour boy, are still on the beat in Istanbul. So who are they?

Cetin Ikmen was probably born middle aged. Lugubrious and intelligent, he doesn’t suffer fools gladly or otherwise and his honesty is legendary. His father, Timur Ikmen, was an academic while his mother, Ayse was a witch and soothsayer originally from Albania. I know that to western ears the concept of a ‘witch’ living with a secular academic seems odd, but in Turkey the mundane and the fantastic have always lived side by side. They still do.

Like his mother, Cetin has a little bit of magic in his soul. His older brother Halil who works as an accountant, doesn’t. However, in spite of this touch of fairy dust, Ikmen is politically to the left of centre and is most definitely a believer in Ataturk’s secular republic. His wife, Fatma, on the other hand, is a very pious Muslim and religion and politics are flash points in what has been over the years a very passionate and devoted marriage. And although Cetin didn’t want a family quite as large as the one he ended up with (Cetin and Fatma have nine children) he loves all his children and works hard to give them the best preparation for life that he can.

Professionally, he has risen through the ranks of the police service since the 1970s and has arrived at a place in his career where, if he progresses any further, he will lose touch with the job of day to day policing. He has enough self awareness to know that this is not where he wants to be. The city of Istanbul is his ‘beat’ and, although he doesn’t always approve of all the changes that take place in it, he is bound to it by birth, habit and a love of the place that almost rivals his passion for his wife. In the end this metropolis that has grown from a backwater of two million people in 1974 to a mega city of fourteen million now, will probably kill Cetin Ikmen. But until that time he will do whatever it takes to tame the wilder and more lethal aspects of the only city in the world that exists across two continents.

Mehmet Suleyman is the scion of an old Ottoman family. Until the Turkish Republic was established in 1923 what was then the Ottoman Empire was ruled by a family called Osmanoglu. This vast monarchy, with an all powerful sultan at its head, enriched through privilege or marriage thousands of other families like the Suleymans. However when the Osmanoglus were deposed anyone who supported them was stripped of their titles and prestige too and so Mehmet Suleyman, son of a man who would once have been a prince, was brought up in genteel if reduced circumstances.

Like his older brother, Murad, Mehmet attended the best school in Istanbul, the Galatasaray Lycee. But rather then settling, as he saw it, for a life of quiet bookishness, he chose to join the police. His parents, who saw and still see the police service as beneath him, were appalled. Now with twenty years service under his belt, he is no longer the innocent ingenue he was when he entered the service. First as Ikmen’s sergeant and then as an inspector in his own right he has toughened up and grown up. This has not always been a positive thing. Married and divorced twice, Mehmet Suleyman has a weakness for women who find him attractive, which is most of them. The quiet, pious Muslim boy who was always very reticent about the fact that his father was a prince, has been replaced by a rather arrogant womaniser who smokes and drinks and can quickly turn to violence. This last aspect of his behaviour in particular is something Cetin Ikmen disapproves of strongly. However the increasing arrogance is something he can at least understand, if not like.

One of the more unexpected results of having a more Islamically inspired government in Turkey (since the AK Parti came to power in 2002) is that the old empire has been, to some extent, rehabilitated. This is known as Neo-Ottomanism which probably reached its apogee in 2009 when thousands of people came out onto the streets of Istanbul to attend the funeral of Ottoman prince Osman Ertugrul Osmanoglu. For Mehmet Suleyman and his family this means that they can be ‘out’ about who they are and the whole ‘prince’ thing has become part of his allure.

The most important person in Mehmet Suleyman’s life is his young son, and only child, Yusuf who lives with his second ex-wife, the psychiatrist, Zelfa Halman. Sadly, Suleyman doesn’t see the child as often as he would like. His personal life is a mess of broken relationships, difficult parents and obsessive liaisons with women even he feels are unsuitable. This is not helped by the occasional use of prostitutes and brief flings with tourists. Unlike Cetin Ikmen’s difficult but loving family life, Suleyman’s life away from policing is a bit of a car crash.

But for all their differences my ‘boys’ get along. Ikmen nursed Suleyman through his first years as an Istanbul police officer, for which Mehmet is eternally grateful. The two now have a friendship which, though tested at times, is enduring. And with the city of Istanbul growing and evolving around them every day, they have a lot to do.

About The Author

Trained as an actress, Barbara Nadel used to work in mental health services. Born in the East End of London, she now lives in Lancashire and writes full time.

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