Mysterious Istanbul (or is that Constantinople?)
Istanbul has always had a fascination for me with exotic harems, spices, silks, and sultans.
Childhood fantasies populated my thoughts until I reached Dorothy Dunnett and her Lymond Chronicles. Her brilliant writing brought my fantasies sharply into focus.
Pawn in Frankincense is the 4th installment in the series and is set in the Istanbul court of Sulieman the Magnificent. Ottoman empire but very Byzantine atmosphere.
While not a mystery in the classic sense, Lymond himself is mysterious enough.
Dunnett inspired me to put Istanbul on my list of must-visit places.
I’m really excited about the beginning of the new HBO series based on the Dunnett books. (I hope they get to Istanbul soon).
A mystery series set in modern Istanbul written by Barbara Nadel features Inspector Ikmen. Reminiscent of Donna Leon’s Venetian series with Commissaire Guido Brunetti, it has a strong sense of place and a sympathetic protagonist. The first book is Belshazzar’s Daughter published now by Felony and Mayhem.
After my first trip to Istanbul, the series provides little memory jolts (like the underground cisterns, the Blue Mosque) and stimulates thoughts of a return visit.
Another Istanbul mystery series is the Inspector Yashim series written by Jason Goodwin and is set at the end of the Ottoman empire. The first Inspector Yashim mystery, The Janissary Tree, is set in 1836 and features the eunuch, cook and sleuth looking into a series of grisly murders designed to halt sweeping political changes by the current sultan.
Jason’s first book, Lords of the Horizon, exposes his historian’s roots. Lords of the Horizon is a history of the Ottoman empire from the 13th to the 20th century.
The last novel I'll mention is set in Constantinople during the struggles between the Western (Roman) church and the Eastern (Orthodox) church. The Sheen on the Silk is written by Anne Perry (of much mystery fame) and gives us another perspective on the times of this ancient city. Not a total mystery but compelling nonetheless.
The Sheen on the Silk sent me off to look at Byzantine history. Lost to the West by Lars Brownworth reads like a novel and is endlessly fascinating.
This is only a sampling of the many opportunities to learn about Istanbul/Constantinople while being wonderfully entertained. When a city has been a major center of culture for 16 centuries, there is much to explore!