Ahmet Altan - Endgame
"Endgame...goes deeper than a simple mystery to be solved. "
An un-named novelist comes to a small un-named town on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. It is a close-knit community, though the writer soon realises that the place seethes with hatred, feuds, passion and corruption. Not only that, on a hill overlooking the town is a ruined church where a great treasure is supposed to be hidden, and where one of the Apostles is alleged to be buried. We first meet the writer as he sits on a bench in the dead of night, a gun in hand. He has just murdered someone.
This is where Ahmet Altan stands the mystery novel on its head. We know who did it, and how it was done - but who was the victim? What was the motive? The writer, as he sits there, takes us on a journey through time up until the shooting. Was the victim Mustafa Gürz, the town mayor? Or was it Zuhal, who was in love with Mustafa, but was having an affair with the writer? Raci Bey, a corrupt businessman? His son, the hot-headed Rahmi? Kamil Hanim, Rahmi's mother, with whom the writer was also having an affair? Was it Oleander, a gang boss who wants to sell the beach? His nephew Sultan? Or Muhacir, another gang boss?
Though 'Endgame' is a satisfying crime novel, it is one that goes deeper than a simple mystery to be solved. Sometimes it is a dense, philosophical treatise on creativity, as when the writer, alone after he has killed, addresses God as the ultimate novelist, and sometimes it is a thriller, with action scenes that wouldn't disgrace a Hollywood movie.
Suhal emails the novelist constantly, exposing her innermost thoughts and fears. All he can do is interject questions now and again, though these don't interrupt Zuhal's flow. From this we see that the writer is not someone who causes things to happen - things happen to him. He is not a catalyst, not even with the two women he is sleeping with, or even the prostitute he sometimes uses. They make the seductive moves, and he reacts.
To call it noir is to miss the point. It has stock characters - the prostitute with a heart of gold, the wise old man (in this case a cradle maker) who dispenses wise words and platitudes at the drop of a hat, corrupt politicians, and a hot-headed, spoiled son. But it is more than the sum of its plot devices. Within the plot the machinations of small town politics are laid bare, even though small town politics that are closer to home never seem to involve shootings, vendettas and corruption on a scale encountered here.
Read this book as a classy thriller with a mystery at its source, or read it as a commentary on the corruption that political and unquestioned power brings. Better still, read it as both - you won't be disappointed.
Reviewed by: J.G.