THE SULTAN'S SEAL
Jenny White

 


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Weidenfeld & Nicolson, May 2006
Reviewed by Sally Roddom

THE SULTANíS SEAL is set in Istanbul in 1886. A naked body of a white woman is found floating in the Bosphorus. There are two clues: firstly, a pendant found around the womanís neck contains the tughra, which is the Sultan's seal and only found in the special possession of the imperial household. Secondly, there are distinct signs that she was drugged prior to her entry in the sea.

Kamil Pasha, the city's magistrate, is called on to investigate the murder, and he sees links to a similar murder of an English governess that took place eight years earlier. That murder occurred on the estate of a woman called Jaanan, a member of Ottoman high society in disgrace because she fell in love with a man who tried to usurp the Sultan. Jaanan was a child when the previous murder occurred. Kamil makes the acquaintance of the daughter of the British Ambassador, Sybil, who has access to the most prominent circles in the Court. She uses her connections to help Kamil gain access to the secret world of the harem. As they work together to untangle the truth from the lies, they make powerful enemies.

THE SULTANíS SEAL is a historical mystery with a bit of romance thrown in. It is an unputdownable read. Kamil has to tread lightly between two cultures. His investigation is set in a period of turmoil in the declining years of the Ottoman Empire. There are powerful men, cunning servants, and the manipulations of the Sultanís harem. In her debut novel Jenny White has produced a multilayered story in a skilful blend of fiction and real history. She weaves together the stories of Kamil, Sybil, and Jaanan, with a background of the clash between the dying Ottoman Empire and the young men within it; as well as portraying the political influence of the English on the sequence of events. White is a lecturer at Boston University, and is no stranger to Istanbul or its Ottoman past. She is the author of two non-fiction books on Turkish society and politics, so she knows her subject well. It is a book you just want to immerse yourself in.

July 2006 review originally published on Murder and Mayhem

 

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