Tangled Web UK Review September 2000
A Chemical Prison by
hbk out July 00
Published by Headline
Set in Istanbul, this a most interesting novel, not only for the crime story, but for the wealth of detail about Turkey and its history, as well as for superb characterisation.
Barbara Nadel is a Londoner and now an Essex woman, but she certainly knows her Turkey and the racial tensions that exist there. Part of story revolves around the poorly-hidden antipathy the Islamic Turks have for the Christian Armenians, dating back to the First World War, which seems to have much in common with Ulster today.
The story concerns a Turkish CID Inspector, a clever put impoverished little man who is reminiscent of Colombo. His life-long friend is the forensic pathologist, who is also an Armenian, which causes a strain in their relationship as the plot unfolds.
A young man is found strangled in an attic flat, owned by an elusive Armenian and when it transpires that he has been incarcerated for fifteen years, subdued by medical drugs, then parallels are drawn between other victims of paedophilia, who have also been drugged into passivity.
The author is herself a mental health professional, experienced in dealing with victims of sexual abuse and her expertise shows through, as well as her compendious knowledge of Turkey. There is a side-plot about the tortured love-affair between two detective-sergeants and problems within the Inspector’s own large family, both of which point up the odd situation that must exist in a secular Islamic state.
The writing is of the highest quality and she uses her characters to both speak and meditate on a range of inter-personal subjects which I suspect are of deep interest to herself.
This is more than a crime novel, though these additional virtues in no way detract from the ‘good yarn’ aspect of the book. Her previous debut novel, Belshazzar’s Daughter, had excellent reviews and though I often fail to agree with the big-gun critics in the Sunday heavies, this time I’m with them all the way on Ms. Nadel’s talents.
One difficulty I had at first was the unfamiliar and sometimes unpronounceable Turkish names, which made me stumble along for a while, until I fixed in my mind who was who - but if the book is about Turkey, then we have to put up with it, for the sake of authenticity. I can hardly complain, after writing about my own Wales, with places like Rhosllanercrugog, Cwmllynfell, Pontycysylltau and Ynysybwl!
- Author of the highly acclaimed Crowner John series set in Medieval Devon)