A few years ago I mentioned on my blog that I’ve had a long time interest in the Ottoman Empire and its modern successor the Republic of Turkey. I’m not exactly sure when and how I developed this fascination, but it might have something to do with a book I found in the public library almost two decades ago. Besides serving up a very readable and straight-up history of the Ottoman Empire, I remember few additional details except it was published back in the 80s or even 70s by a British author. Sadly, both the title of book and its author I’ve long since forgotten. But my interest in Turkey remains, and as a result I’m always on the lookout for good books about Turkey and the Ottoman Empire.
A few weeks ago I was back at the public library combing the shelves for who knows what when I came across a copy of Jenny White’s 2006 novel The Sultan’s Seal. Even though I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, its beautiful cover art sucked me in. So as you could probably guess, I grabbed it.
Set in the late nineteenth century, The Sultan’s Seal begins with the discovery of the naked body of a young Englishwoman. Upon inspection, a special pendant is found around her neck linking her to the deposed sultan. Soon magistrate Kemil Pasha is called upon to solve her murder and before long he begins to find similarities between it and an earlier murder that was never solved. As his investigation progresses, he begins to suspect both murders are part of a larger conspiracy, a conspiracy involving those at the highest levels of government. Will justice ultimately be served or will powerful forces much greater than Kemil squash his investigation?
At first I loved The Sultan’s Seal. I was immediately sucked in by the novel’s premise and quickly grew to like its protagonist Kemil Pasha. Set during a period of history when the Ottoman Empire was painfully coming to grips with both its fading power and the pressures and challenges of the modern age I couldn’t have asked for more from a novel about Turkey. Unfortunately however, Jenny’s White’s debut novel feels a bit, well, like a debut novel. Things sometimes felt a bit rushed and I thought there were a few loose ends that were not wrapped up. It also ends abruptly, or at least too abruptly for my tastes anyway. Fortunately, her knowledge of Turkish history and culture felt impressive and it shows throughout her novel.
But I’m willing to give her another chance. She has two additional novels in this series and I’m willing to read both The Abyssinian Proof and The Winter Thief. If I’ve learned anything over the last half decade of blogging about books it’s that writers can improve with time and experience. (Case in point, I’ve enjoyed Alan Furst’s later novels more than his earlier ones. And he’s quickly become one of my favorite novelists.) So with that in mind, don’t be surprised if you see more novels by Jenny White featured on this blog.