The Kiss Murder by Mehmet Murat Somer
Next to one of the various Trader Joe’s I frequent is the amazing Richard’s Variety Store, which sells everything from vintage candy to collectible Barbies to Jesus action figures. It also has a nice and eclectic collection of books, from offbeat fantasy to prettily designed classics to art books. In the mysteries pile, I found The Gigolo Murder and was entranced by the gorgeous cover. Since the cover announced there was a first in the series, I immediately added The Kiss Murder of the Hop-Çiki-Yaya mysteries (also known as the Turkish Delight mysteries) to my reading list. A few weeks later, I found it in the bargain section of Books-a-Million, with an equally stunning cover. This book wanted to be read.
By day, The Kiss Murder’s unnamed hero(ine) is a computer hacker in Istanbul. By night, she is a glamorous drag queen who runs her own club, keeping a particular eye out of her girls, who range from fellow transvestites to transsexuals. When one of her girls, Buse, turns up dead after confiding that she has some dirt on a powerful public figure, our heroine decides she needs to take justice into her own hands.
Somer balances the two sides of the drag scene, especially in a conservative Muslim city, well. While there’s all the fun of getting ready (our heroine is fond of imitating Audrey Hepburn) and plenty of glamour and cattiness, Somer doesn’t gloss over the darker side–our heroine takes it upon herself to unravel Buse’s murder because the police aren’t certainly going to help a transgendered woman, and, while she usually views herself and her girls as lovely escorts, she scathingly refers to them all as “tranny hookers” in a moment of frustration. The balance is very well done. The issue of pronouns for the heroine is neatly side-stepped by the fact it’s written in first person, and Somer respectfully defaults to female pronouns for her employees, who all inhabit the feminine end of the gender spectrum.
While our heroine is never named, she’s a fun character–calm, collected, and concealing a thorough knowledge of Thai kickboxing under her Audrey Hepburn outfits. After one scene, she laments her wounds after escaping one of the baddie’s henchmen, as well as the demise of her favorite cotton dress. She references drag culture and classic films casually, and is quite proud of her computer hacking skills. Occasionally, some of her comments can be catty–she blames the death of chivalry on feminists and lesbians–but these mesh with her somewhat old-fashioned female persona and are few and far between. Her fondness for game shows expresses itself by her frequent contemplation of all the options she has at a given time, and Somer uses the gimmick well. (One of them is a particularly good joke.)The supporting cast is nicely varied but never particularly complex, save Sofya, our heroine’s former mentor and current rival.
The novel isn’t quite sure how explicit it wants to be. Most of the time, it manages a frank but still fairly discreet treatment of sexuality–our heroine blithely mentions checking some porn sites for photos of her favorite model (which she occasionally uses to play pranks on her straight business partner), sleeps with a handsome policeman, and fends off the attentions of a woman while out of drag. However, Buse’s backstory is unexpectedly explicit, and I felt her rape was handled poorly. I just wish it was consistent, especially since it’s all coming through the filter of our heroine. There’s also the problem of our heroine finally accepting the romantic advances of a man she previously wanted nothing to do with. I suppose this is partially because my self-defense class has taught me that you must make sure your “no” means “no” and not “maybe”, but it still weirded me out.
The mystery itself is interesting only because of Buse’s involvement–otherwise, it’s fairly run of the mill but still decent. My only problem was that the pacing of breakthroughs in the mystery felt awkward. Our heroine occasionally decides to give up, only to find herself in circumstances that move things along. This makes things too choppy, and feels odd after the heroine spends most of the first half actively solving the mystery. Somer does use the pauses between evidence to give us a better idea of our heroine’s world, but it feels much too cozy for a murder mystery, especially one involving politics. While the mystery is resolved well, it also feels a little weak, since our heroine can’t do anything with the knowledge she’s gained.
The absolutely gorgeous cover for The Kiss Murder was done by Tomer Hanuka, who, I assume, did the others. Hanuka posted about the cover’s evolution on the blog he shares with his twin brother, which you can read here. It’s lovely to see how a book cover comes together and simplifies, and I find Hanuka’s work absolutely marvelous.
Bottom line: While the setting and main character are very unique and interesting, the actual mystery of The Kiss Murder is lacking. Worth a read if you’re interested, but if you’re not, don’t go out of your way.
I bought this book from Books-a-Million.