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Reviews for Baksheesh by Esmahan Aykol
TOP TEN INTERNATIONAL CRIME NOVELS OF 2013:‘What could be missing in the life of a woman who loves reading detective stories and has a shop specializing in crime fiction that provides her with enough to live on, who lives in a city she adores and has a lover she finds attractive?” Set in Turkey's largest city, BAKSHEESH follows the misadventures of Kati Hirschel, a self-deprecating German ex-pat who runs a mystery bookshop and finds herself suspected of murdering a man of shady repute.' - Bookreporter
Kati Hirschel's mother was German Catholic and her father a German Jew. They settled in Istanbul to escape fascism and Kati spent her first seven years there. Now she's moved back from Germany and is the proprietor of the only mystery bookshop in Istanbul. She's also determined to be an “Istanbuli” and only her slight accent belies her many years in Germany. Kati has an unusually bad week. Her landlady gives notice of a rent increase. She takes umbrage at something her lover, Selim, says and walks away from him. Kati tackles the rent problem first by deciding to be a true Istanbuli and use a little baksheesh (bribe) to buy a new place, preferably near her business in Kuledibe Square. Little did she know that just looking for a house would make her a murder suspect and it would take all her knowledge of Istanbul, its nuances, and culture to get off the suspect list. Kati contacts baksheesh-agreeable (some would call him corrupt) property agent Kasim Bey, who is employed by the government office. He gives her the addresses of flats for her to consider. Of course, squatters occupy many of these “empty” flats, making it awkward to see inside the door. Kati attempts to see the one with a view of the Bosphorus, but is stopped at the door. A man, called Osman by someone inside, tells her the flat is not for sale. Kati, still ticked from her tiff with Selim, argues; Osman starts to choke her and she screams. Later, a neighbor tells her that the family in the flat owns several car parks around town and they shouldn't be trifled with… in fact, they could be trouble. And sure enough, Osman Karakas, shows up the next day at her bookstore and only leaves after Kati hits him with a ceramic ashtray, drawing blood. Unluckily for Kati, Osman is found dead in his office the next morning with a gunshot to the leg. The brothers point the finger at Kati. Who else had a bone to pick with him? Who else indeed? Her police friend, Batuhan, tells her she is under suspicion, even though there is no evidence other than what the brothers said. However, when she makes her statement to the police, it becomes evident that the car park family is higher on the suspect list than she is. Kati decides to clear her name and maybe even get Osman's family out of the flat so she can buy it. In the meantime, Kati has to contend with Pelin, her unreliable employee, who is temporarily staying with Kati between boyfriends. Kati's fending off her landlady about the increased rent. Selim, her lover, hasn't called yet to make up. And Batahun, with the excuse of the murder investigation, seems to have taken a more personal interest in her. In BAKSHEESH, Esmahan Aykol has created a quirky, funny, unique, and endearing character in Kati Hirschel. She's in her middle age, has dyed orange hair, loves her smokes, and socializes with her friends in bars, cafes, and restaurants. She has girlfriends who console and support her, go out drinking and dining with her and, now, help her search for the murderer. Aykol captures the energy and flavor of Istanbul and the intricate and unique nuances of the language and culture. And, of course, you'll find out all the people and circumstances where a little baksheesh can smooth your way. Before you finish reading this mystery, you'll want to visit Kati's mystery bookstore near Kuledibe Square, sample the kabobs, nesf, and pitta bread in the Samatya neighborhood, and wander in the Basilica Cistern near Hagia Sofia. You'll enjoy following Kati on her convoluted trail through extended families and feuds, mistresses and love triangles, illegal workers, illegitimate children, a stolen gun and cellphone, a dead old woman and jealousy. Does Kati make up with Selim? Does Pelin find love and her own place to live? Was Kati successful in ousting the car park people from that beautiful flat with a Bosphorus view? You'll have to read BAKSHEESH to answer these questions and to find out whether or not she solves the mystery and if justice is served. - I Love a Mystery
‘Baksheesh by Esmahan Aykol (translated by Ruth Whitehouse) (Bitter Lemon Press, 2013) is a story about the life of Kati Hirschel. She's forty-four years old and lives in Istanbul where she runs a shop specialising in mystery and detective fiction. We find her in a moment of crisis. She's had a major argument with her lover, a lawyer, and her landlady is preparing to impose a big surcharge on her current rent. Her reaction is simple and direct. She will find a new place to live, even if this means entering the treacherous waters of the baksheesh market. For those of you not familiar with the ways of the world outside Europe and America, the majority of civil servants and other people in positions of authority are chronically underpaid. But since they often control access to essential bureaucracy, they can achieve a living wage by taking a little extra money on the side to move people through the system more quickly or, if appropriate, to keep people out of the relevant system altogether. For these purposes, it doesn't really matter whether you call these payments a tip or a small gift, the majority in the West will condemn this approach to life as corrupt and reject the actual or implied requests for payment. This is to misunderstand the culture. In fact, the payments also reflect respect for the individual and the work he or she does, and a real sense of gratitude when the work is done well. But to navigate the social conventions and taboos, all the parties have to be in tune with each other. Although our heroine has real experience through living in Turkey for many years and speaks the language well, this is her first interaction with this method of acquiring a new home. Perhaps if her relationship had not just broken down or she did not feel so under pressure, she would have approached this transaction in a better frame of mind. But she lacks the patience and subtlety. Sadly this persuades her to try visiting the places she may be allowed to buy. The fact there may still be people living there who are not be aware of any threat to their continuing occupation does not occur to our heroine. She just wants to make quick unannounced viewings of her potential home. Sadly, in one block, this leads to a major argument. Threats are made. The following day, the man she fought with is dead and she's a suspect. Well, again, in Turkey this is not a certainty. The police insist people come down to the station to make statements for even the most trivial of incidents. But she feels under threat and so, drawing on her love of detective fiction, she sets off the solve the crime. This is a wonderful book. As a first person narrative, it plays at metafiction with regular asides to those of us reading the book, references to the fact this is her second book, and gentle explanations of who everyone is, how Turkey works as a society, and how she thinks about her own life. As you will realise from the first reference to the book, this is translated from the Turkish. It may therefore surprise you it should take its time to explain and comment on local culture. In fact the author is using the perspective of an outsider to hold up a mirror to life in Istanbul. Our heroine is of German stock but was born in Turkey and has returned to live there. She's been there long enough to speak the language well and cope with everyday situations. But she discuses her own problems with idiomatic usages and frets she's not always creating the right impression. She's also quick to point out when prejudices impact her life. Sometimes, she's aggressive in her own defence. Other times, she's able to exploit local conventions of hospitality to be able to sit and talk with people (pumping them for information). In fact, she remains a suspect to the end of this book. She certainly has motive and opportunity. The fact she's able to offer an alternative candidate for the two deaths does not get her off the hook. The lead detective has doubts about the first death but, when the alternative suspect makes a significant confession, he's not going to go anywhere outside this convenient package. This just leaves our heroine to put the final pieces of the jigsaw into place. As a perfectionist, she always wants the satisfaction of a complete picture. And it proves a very satisfying set of solutions because we've been able to watch our heroine ferreting out the relevant information and following through on all the details. Although she's briefly distracted by one or two possible suspects, none of the early candidates fit into the emerging picture of what happened. It's only when information emerges about a key relationship that she can finally be certain what probably happened. It's a wonderfully tragic backstory. For me this is an almost perfect book. It has a beautifully described first-person narrator who navigates the treacherous currents of Turkish society with considerable skill despite her uncertainties over the subtleties of language and the dangers arising from the tensions between different ethnic and religious groups. That she could still be arrested as the last page of the book turns is a testament to the very clever way the mystery is put together. All it would take is for the police or prosecutors to take a different view of the evidence and she would be toast. In the majority of other detective or mystery fiction outings, there's never any doubt the primary protagonist will be accepted as completely innocent. This book reflects the realities of life in the world of policing where little is ever black and white. As a final thought, Esmahan Aykol is the mirror image of her heroine. She was born in Turkey but has spent many years in Germany. Such a lifestyle enables her to make telling observations about the culture of both countries. On all levels this is a book worth reading/' - Thinking about Books
‘Baksheesh, by Esmahan Aykol, and The Sound of One Hand Killing, by Teresa Solana, have a few things in common. Both have considerable comic elements; both have a meta-fictional premise (Aykol's heroine, Kati, owns a crime fiction bookstore, so there are frequent references to crime writers; and the client for whom Solana's unlicensed private detectives, twin brothers Borja and Eduard, are working is a crime writer named Teresa Solana. Plus both are set in Istanbul and Barcelona, cities not unknown to crime fiction but less heavily represented in the genre than, say, Italy or France, not to mention U.K. and U.S. But The Sound of One Hand Killing is more clearly satirical in intent. Solana is skewering Catalonian society, as in her earlier novels, and new-age fads this time as well. The social climbers and herbal-medicine consumers in the book are quite funny, though Borja and Eduard are somewhat lacking in the traditional skills of the fictional private detective. The joke about Solana being their client isn't leaned on too heavily, so we're not subjected to the full-on metafiction of a few other contemporary crime-comedy writers. Despite the murder of the head guru of the health spa that the brothers have infiltrated on Solana's behalf, the tone is light and the pace fairly languid. It's less a page-turner than a light entertainment. Aykol's tone is also fairly light, but there's more tension. The main concern of our heroine, Kati, is finding a new apartment, after her landlord has announced a rate increase. She briefly becomes a suspect in the murder of a squatter in an apartment that she seeks to rent (he menaced her and she him), but the murder mystery (and the tension of her being accused) dissipates somewhat in Kati's pursuit of the dead man's lover and family, which she manages to infiltrate. The result is a breezy tour through neighborhoods and homes of Turks that tourists would not normally see, with the romance of Aykol's first novel, Hotel Bosphorus, mostly (but not entirely) replaced with real-estate lust. As with Solana's novel, Baksheesh is not much of a page turner. The ending, though, is truer to the characters than to the conventions of crime fiction, in an interesting way. Aykol's intention is less satirical than Solana's and more sociological, exploring the corruption and everyday life of the denizens of Istanbul, in the working class as well as professionals and those aspiring to social status (Kati's bookshop offers her inroads into both, which she exploits as necessary). Both are enjoyable reads and neither is a conventional crime novel. Either would be an effective antidote for an overdose of noir or cozy reading.' - International Noir Fiction
‘Bribery can get you many things. Including an apartment where a dead body turns up and you become the main suspect. Such is the case with Esmahan Aykol's second book in her Kati Hirschel series, translated beautifully by Ruth Whitehouse. I love the charm of the main character. She's of German descent, though born in Turkey. She owns a small mystery bookstore, reminding me of one of our Killer Nashville sponsoring bookstores, Mysteries & More. I am drawn to the subtlety of the storytelling. It doesn't hurry as an American genre novel would. It's like a slow flowing brook. It eventually gets there in its own good and purposeful time, to be enjoyed along the way, not rushed, maybe like a fine Turkish tea in the afternoon. It's a mystery, but you have to get rather far into it (by American standards) before the body shows up. You know, sometimes we need something different, maybe a journey abroad. If you're not thinking of reading it now, go ahead and buy it while it is still available in the States. These foreign titles, my experience, don't stay around as long as we would like. And then on that day in the future when you are feeling a need to get away, it will be there, to the right, on the third shelf waiting, and in no time you'll be strolling the streets of Istanbul, finding yourself maybe in a quaint little mystery bookshop. No finer place could one be on a rainy afternoon.' - KillerNashville
‘This is a wonderful book….For me this is an almost perfect book. It has a beautifully described first-person narrator who navigates the treacherous currents of Turkish society with considerable skill despite her uncertainties over the subtleties of language and the dangers arising from the tensions between different ethnic and religious groups. That she could still be arrested as the last page of the book turns is a testament to the very clever way the mystery is put together. All it would take is for the police or prosecutors to take a different view of the evidence and she would be toast. In the majority of other detective or mystery fiction outings, there's never any doubt the primary protagonist will be accepted as completely innocent. This book reflects the realities of life in the world of policing where little is ever black and white. As a final thought, Esmahan Aykol is the mirror image of her heroine. She was born in Turkey but has spent many years in Germany. Such a lifestyle enables her to make telling observations about the culture of both countries. On all levels this is a book worth reading.' - Opionator Worldpress
‘Baksheesh (the second in a series that began with Hotel Bosphorus) is a quick-paced look at life in modern Istanbul. The convoluted mystery Esmahan Aykol sets up is intimately linked to deep corruption within the Turkish political system. Kati Hirschel, owner of the only mystery bookstore in Istanbul, needs to move. Her landlady is upping the rent, so Kati finds a government employee willing to accept a little baksheesh in return for putting her at the top of the waiting list for a new apartment. She's offered a place, only to find squatters already there. She argues violently with one of the men; when he turns up dead a few days later, Kati becomes the main suspect. Kati's already busy dealing with a fight with her boyfriend, fears that she's starting menopause and is irritated that everyone in Turkey keeps telling her how well she speaks Turkish. In order to clear her name, though, she decides she needs to investigate this murder on her own--clearly the Turkish police are no match for her brisk German efficiency. Kati is a comical heroine whose many quirks (chain-smoking, picking quarrels, worrying about her cellulite) make her very relatable. The language is sometimes stilted--which may be a result of translation, or perhaps reflective of Kati's abrupt style. Either way, Esmahan Aykol has brought Istanbul's chaotic, colorful world to life and has created an engaging detective as its tour guide. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm Discover: Chain-smoking bookstore proprietor Kati Hirschel stumbles into another case of murder in Istanbul in the second translation from Aykol's Turkish mystery series.' - Shelf Awareness
‘The whole thing started when Kati Hershel's landlady raised her rent. The 44-year old Kati, owner of a crime fiction bookshop, decided enough was enough and starting hunting for a new apartment.Though German, Kati has chosen Istanbul as her home, and is wise to the ways of the Turkish city. Or at least she thought she was. The new apartment search introduces her not only to new parts of the city but also to an intimacy with baksheesh she'd never thought she'd need. Is baksheesh tipping, or is it bribery? Though Kati hasn't made up her mind, she's willing to give it a try to get the apartment of her dreams.Before she can hand over any money, however, the current tenant turns up murdered and the police are pointing at Kati as the killer. Even Batuhan, a murder squad policeman she might call a friend on good days, is suspicious of her motives. What's a girl to do? Kati, working on the assumption that all those mysteries she's read must have taught her something, begins working to clear her name. She quickly finds that the victim, Osman Karakas, had plenty of people who might have wanted him dead. His volatile uncle, his brothers, his political party, his Tatar neighbor, his girlfriends; all have reasons for murder. Maybe not good reasons, but still reasons. When an elderly woman is killed, Kati realizes it's up to her to sort it out before there are more deaths, including her own.Told in a breezy first person, “Baksheesh” has the feel of a chick-lit mystery but with an exotic edge. While the mystery sometimes takes a back seat to Kati's complicated love life, the ancient city of Istanbul is always center stage. The city's foods, sights, sounds, complex ethnicities, and timeless customs are woven so deeply into the narrative that the story couldn't take place anywhere else. Author Aykol is adept not only at creating fascinating characters, but also at bringing a city to life.' - Suspense Magazine
‘In Istanbul, decent apartments are hard to come by. Or at least hard to come by without a generous helping of baksheesh, the monetary lubricant that smoothes so much of Turkish life. Kati Hirschel, the owner of Istanbul's only mystery bookshop, is happy enough to pay that unofficial price if it means she can have her dream apartment. However, the property comes with one unwanted feature, the body of a man Kati had recently had a very public argument with. Partly on the grounds that she might become a suspect, a vague possibility that is quickly discounted, but more because reading all those mysteries must have taught her something, Kati begins looking into the killing. As far as the mystery element goes, we are in fairly standard amateur sleuth territory with Kati an engaging central character who is reminiscent, in a good way, of Lauren Henderson's Sam Jones series from the late 1990s. Where the book really scores, however, is in Aykol's introduction to modern day Istanbul, a cosmopolitan city that is a magnet for the rural poor and their less than cosmopolitan traditional ways and where Islamists and secular modernists rub up against each other. Aykol's clever touch is in making Kati, though a native of Istanbul by birth, a German by parentage and upbringing (in the process neatly reversing the late Jakob Arjouni's Kemal Kayankaya series), giving her both an insider's familiarity and an outsider's eye on her Turkish neighbours (and her fellow Germans, come to think of it). Fancy making a trip to Turkey, but can't quite afford the airfare? This could be the next best thing.' - Shots Magazine
‘Baksheesh (the second in a series that began with Hotel Bosphorus ) is a quick-paced look at life in modern Istanbul. The convoluted mystery Esmahan Aykol sets up is intimately linked to deep corruption within the Turkish political system. Kati Hirschel, owner of the only mystery bookstore in Istanbul, needs to move. Her landlady is upping the rent, so Kati finds a government employee willing to accept a little baksheesh in return for putting her at the top of the waiting list for a new apartment. She's offered a place, only to find squatters already there. She argues violently with one of the men; when he turns up dead a few days later, Kati becomes the main suspect. Kati's already busy dealing with a fight with her boyfriend, fears that she's starting menopause and is irritated that everyone in Turkey keeps telling her how well she speaks Turkish. In order to clear her name, though, she decides she needs to investigate this murder on her own--clearly the Turkish police are no match for her brisk German efficiency. Kati is a comical heroine whose many quirks (chain-smoking, picking quarrels, worrying about her cellulite) make her very relatable. The language is sometimes stilted--which may be a result of translation, or perhaps reflective of Kati's abrupt style. Either way, Esmahan Aykol has brought Istanbul's chaotic, colorful world to life and has created an engaging detective as its tour guide. I saw an Amazon review that compared Kati to Stephanie Plum from the Janet Evanovich books. I haven't read those, so I'm not sure if that's an accurate comparison, but hey, if you like Janet Evanovich you may want to give this one a try.' - Quirky Bookworm
‘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.' - Criminal Element
'In Aykol’s impressive second Kati Hirschel mystery set in Istanbul (after 2011’s Hotel Bosphorus), Kati, a German expatriate "who loves reading detective stories and has a shop specializing in crime fiction that provides her with enough to live on, " faces an unaffordable rent increase. Rather than moving in with her respectable lover, Kati decides to bribe government officials to obtain a new place. Along the way, she argues with car-park man Osman Karakas, a man with a reputation for burning down buildings so parking lots can be built on the sites, who’s later found dead with a bullet wound in the leg that shouldn’t have been fatal. Now a suspect in the Osman murder, Kati (who notes that in "films, people get shot in the leg as a threat. Then they appear in the next scene hobbling around with a wounded leg ") once again turns amateur sleuth with aplomb.’ - Publishers Weekly
‘When you want to be more than a pretty wife, you may have to go above and beyond the call of duty. "Baksheesh" is a mystery following Kati Hirschel, a Turkish wife of a powerful lawyer who runs a store specializing in mystery books. With characters all around her putting the pressure on her, she pushes herself to keep her independence, until her interest becomes her business in more than one way. "Baksheesh" is a strongly recommended pick for lovers of international mystery, highly recommended.' - MBR Bookwatch
‘Close by the Mediterranean, Esmahan Aykol's Baksheesh is the second novel to feature Kati Hirschel, the owner of the only crime fiction bookshop in Istanbul, and therefore, it seems, ideally place d to intervene in the corruption that seems to drive the city. The focus here is on property: at the relatively harmless end of things, this involves bribing a public official to secure an apartment, but in the same building a larger dispute ends in murder. The irrepressible Kati soon begins to investigate a vast criminal economy. This would be interesting enough in itself without Kati's continual insistence that she is a larger than life character, unbound by convention. After a while she just seems noisy.' - Times Literary Supplement
'Esmahan Aykol’s new novel featuring Kati Hirschel, the proud owner of Istanbul’s only crime fiction bookstore, is the wonderfully titled Baksheesh, which I believe is a word of Persian origin. Anyone who has ever spent an evening in aPublic Bar with a couple of old 'Eastern Hands’ regretting the passing of the British Empire, or a lunch time in a Fleet Street wine bar with a certain generation of journalists, will know instantly the meaning of the word. My younger readers (and there might be one somewhere) may well have come across the word in one of Eric Ambler’s thrillers from the 1938-1940 period. If, whether you are young or old, you have never heard of Eric Ambler, then please stop reading this column immediately.' - Getting Away With Murder Mike Ripley
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