As if in response to Jakob Arjouni's old Kemal Kayankaya series featuring a German-born Turkish private detective in Germany, this first in a projected trilogy features a Turkish-born German amateur detective in Turkey. Unfortunately, unlike that series, this Istanbul-set debut (which was originally published in 2001) relies far too heavily on its setting at the expense of telling an good story. The protagonist, Kati Hirschel is a 30-something German Jew who spent her early childhood in the city before her family moved to Germany. After finishing college, she returned to Istanbul and settled down as an bookseller specializing in crime fiction. One day, her old college friend Petra arrives in the city to shoot a film, only to become a suspect in the murder of the film's director. Naturally, crime fiction buff Kati can't resist embarking on a little amateur sleuthing on behalf of her friend.
Her investigations take her all across the city, allowing for plenty of travel-guide insights into neighborhoods, traffic, food, etc. At the same time, she has a flirtatious thing going on with the handsome lead detective on the case. Fortunately, this is handled with greater subtlety and ambiguity than the average crime novel romance. She also comes into contact with one of the city's crime families, one of whom is involved in the film's production. Unfortunately, the mystery elements of the story are really clumsy. These begin with Petra's awkwardly inserted backstory, which is so melodramatic and unrelated to all that's come before it, that the reader can't help but know that it'll come back as a plot point later on. Other missteps ensure, leading up to the worst of all: near the end, Kati just happens to meet (through a rather astonishing coincidence), one of the only people in the world who has the information that allows her to connect the dots and figure out not only the who, but more importantly, the why of the murder. And not only is this deus ex machina incredibly clumsy, but the truth that is revealed feels artificial and engineered in a way that fiction never should.
Besides the attempt at genre and showcasing Istanbul, the book also attempts to examine the frayed edges of the relationship between Turkish and German people. This also never quite came together for me -- the observations and tensions all felt too obvious and spelled-out. It's possible that's just the function of the decade that's passed since the book was first published, but anyone looking for insights in that realm won't find many here. All in all, a bit of a dud, and I'm not sure if I'll bother giving the next two in the series a chance.