Friday, March 02, 2018

All the Potentate’s Puzzlers

This story, from The Paris Review, is too interesting not to share:
Of the ten thousand books in the library of Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II, two thousand were detective novels. Abdülhamid also founded the first secret service and sent spies across the empire to report to him.

Many sources cite these two facts—the Sultan’s love of mystery novels and his secret service—back to back. I agree that the story, told like this, stirs the imagination. …

In the sultan’s thirty-three-year reign, which began in 1876 with the suspension of the Ottoman Parliament and the restoration of absolute monarchy [and ended in 1909], more than fifty mystery novels were translated into Turkish.

The first Turkish mystery, also written during the reign of Abdülhamid, is Ahmet Mithat’s
Esrâr-ı Cinâyât (Mysteries of the murder). It’s an amateur example of the genre: the culprit, Mustafa the Counterfeiter, drops from the sky at the end, in a denouement unrelated to the book’s other developments.

The best mysteries—and those preferred by the sultan, judging from his library—must be solved with the discerning light cast by their investigator and not with the inventions of the author.

The pleasure of reading a mystery novel, for me as it must have been for the sultan, is in the moment of illumination.
(Hat tip to In Reference to Murder.)

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