Baksheesh by Esmahan Aykol is the second book in the contemporary mystery series featuring Istanbul bookseller Kati Hirschel (available March 5, 2013).
Kati Hirschel tells a great story. She’s funny, smart, observant, and self-effacing. The fact that she’s the proprietor of Istanbul’s only bookstore devoted exclusively to crime and mystery fiction just adds to her appeal. If you’ve read Hotel Bosphorus, Esmahan Aykol’s first Kati Hirschel mystery, you already know about Kati, her free-spirited style, and her vast network of friends and acquaintances. (The woman knows everybody!)
Now Kati’s back and she has a problem; her landlady is raising the rent and Kati needs to find a new place to live. Maybe she’ll buy a place. A friend floats the idea and it’s tempting, but in Istanbul a very specific set of rules apply to this endeavor. It all starts with “finding a man” with the right connections and access to an unpublished list of available properties, then giving him money to facilitate the transaction.
As Kati explains to her boyfriend Selim, “the highest tax-paying commercial lawyer in the city”:
“I’ve bribed Kasim Bey so that he’ll get me an apartment. He works in the trustee department at the National Real Estate Bureau.”
“You can’t really have bribed someone, that’s… No, I don’t believe it.”
“Why not? You hand out bribes to officials in the justice department.”
“Not bribes, pet. I had out baksheesh. Like you tip a waiter who serves you in a restaurant. It’s the same sort of thing. … I give people money if they provide a service that’s beyond what they would normally do. They do what is required and I reward them. If I handed out money for something they shouldn’t do or was illegal, then it would be a bribe.”
“Yes, well, I wasn’t getting him to do anything illegal. I just gave him a little sweetener to secure me a perfectly lawful prerogative that will enable me to buy an apartment that would otherwise have been impossible. Why should yours be baksheesh and mine a bribe?”
Call it whatever you like. With the necessary palms well and truly greased, Kati seems to be on her way to buying a new apartment. And a swell one it is too, with high ceilings and views of the Bosphorus from all the rear windows—even the bathroom.
There’s just one problem: it’s currently occupied by a thuggish brute named Osman Karakas, who’s using it as an office for his shady business operations—and Osman has no intention of vacating the premises.
He threatens Kati.
Kati threatens him right back.
Then before you can say “eviction notice,” Osman is murdered and Kati’s in the frame for the crime.
“Let’s start from the beginning. The man I quarreled with yesterday has been killed. Correct? The man from the car-park mafia?”
[Batuhan] nodded in agreement.
“His brothers say I was his only enemy. Have I misunderstood anything so far?”
“No, you’ve understood correctly.”
“For God’s sake, does it sound reasonable to you that a female bookseller would be the sole enemy of a car-park gang member?”
Of course, it’s not reasonable, and despite Osman’s similarly thuggish brothers’ attempts to pin the crime on Kati, it’s obvious to everyone she didn’t do it. By this time, however, Kati’s mystery fiction instincts have gone into overdrive, because as we know there’s nothing a mystery fiction reader loves better than a puzzling crime to solve.
She’s determined to help Batuhan, the policeman who has a crush on her, find the murderer. And she’s equally (possibly more) determined to take ownership of that swell apartment.
In Baksheesh, Turkish author Esmahan Aykol captures the spirit of life in the big city with all its weirdness and arcana. Istanbul is a crazy, complicated, bold, and beautiful place, and Kati does a marvelous job of showing it all to us. Although she was born in Istanbul, and speaks fluent Turkish, she is the child of German parents and she spent most of her life in Berlin. Thus, Kati sees Turkey and the Turks from the point of view of a sympathetic, affectionate outsider; and through her eyes, so do we—becoming more enchanted by the city with every dizzying step.
Baksheesh was a pleasure from beginning to end.
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Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.
Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.