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A Chemical Prison    by Barbara Nadel order for
Chemical Prison
by Barbara Nadel
Order:  USA  Can
Headline, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A Chemical Prison embeds a murder mystery in modern Istanbul, with its religious and racial tensions, divided loyalties and Byzantine history. Inspector Cetin Ikmen is a poor and honest police officer whose best friend since childhood is the rich Armenian forensic pathologist Arto Sarkissian. They are both involved in the investigation of a dead boy found in an oddly hidden apartment of the Sacking House (so named for its historical use to sew up unwanted concubines before their disposal in the Bosphorus).

The boy's limbs are atrophied and the windows of his room were nailed shut. As further details are uncovered, Arto's loyalties are torn between what he owes to his friend Cetin and duty, and on the other hand to his Armenian community and professional peers. Cetin has his own problems that have driven him to avoid home whenever possible. His much respected father has deteriorated to a state of dementia. In an exercise of avoidance, Cetin leaves his wife Fatma to cope with that, her own sickness and too many small children.

There are other interesting characters and relationships, in particular the lovely Sergeant Farsakoglu, attracted to her peer Mehmet Suleyman (himself unhappily married), and Mehmet's friend and colleague Cohen, who loves to gossip. A succession of crystal figures sent to Cetin seem to hint at involvement of the Ottoman aristocracy and their methods of disposal of unwanted siblings. Other clues point to pedophiles and drugs supplied by a doctor, possibly an Armenian. The mystery is resolved at the same time as developments in the characters' own lives come to a crisis.

It took me a few chapters to really get interested in A Chemical Prison but it turned out to be an absorbing read with an unusual background, and characters that I would like to encounter again.

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