Monday, 10 February 2014

The Istanbul Puzzle by Laurence O’Bryan – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

Sean Ryan is horrified to learn that his colleague and friend Alek Zegliwski has been savagely beheaded. His body is found hidden near the sacred archaeological site of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

When Sean arrives in city to identify the body, he is handed an envelope of photographs belonging to Alek and soon finds himself in grave danger. Someone wants him dead – by why?

Aided by British diplomat Isabel Sharp, Sean begins to unravel the mystery of the mosaics in the photographs and inches closer to snaring Alek’s assassin. But evil is at work in Istanbul and when a lethal virus is unleashed upon the city, panic spreads fast across Europe. Time is running out for Sean and Isabel. They must catch the killer before it’s too late…’

The Istanbul Puzzle is the first novel in Laurence O’Bryan’s Puzzle series featuring Sean Ryan, a widower working at The Institute of Applied Research, Oxford.

It begins with the murder of Alek Zegliwski, an employee at the Institute of Applied Research, Oxford. The murder attracted a lot of attention considering how he was beheaded in Hagia Sophia. This brings his closest acquaintance into the scene, Sean Ryan, the director of the institute and by entering the scene; he ends up risking his own life as Alek’s assailants are willing to do anything to let the murder remain a mystery. However, this doesn’t worry Sean in anyway whatsoever, and is equally determined to unravel the mystery behind his colleague’s death and is helped by British diplomat in the process. The story is narrated by Sean in first person (his parts). 

A one liner I’d say for this book is that the write-up on the back-cover flatters to deceive. While it starts very well, with a barbaric beheading followed by Sean Ryan urgently heading to Istanbul to investigate the scene and ends up getting attacked on the same day with Isabel coming to his rescue. However, with that, everything came to an end. The author was too much in awe of Hagia Sophia, the friendly nature of the Turkish public and Hagia Sophia and ends up describing every brick of the city with such details that he gets lost in proceeding with the plot. In fact, the sub-plot on the planning of the bio-war turned out to be much more interesting and considering the end, I’m in a dilemma as to decide which is the plot – Alek’s murder or the sub-plot describer here but owing to the number of pages occupied by the former, I’d advisedly use that description for the latter. It gets nowhere till Sean and Isabel find an ancient manuscript beneath Hagia Sophia, giving a glimmer of hope to the reader that things are going to get interesting from thereon but then, it flattered to deceive too, like the overall write-up and in fact, the find had no real impact in the story, in the end.

However, some praise worthy aspects of the novel are is the description of Istanbul as aforementioned. Upon reading this, your urge to visit the city where the cultures of East and West merge would just be on the rise considering the picturesque descriptions of the various monuments such as Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Hagia Eirene (though I don’t know why the Blue Mosque was completely ignored) and the Bosphorous. In fact, I’d rate it as a good travelogue with a story in the background. The way in which the author brought out the rising trust between Sean and Isabel was also good – rather than putting up with another love at first sight, Isabel falls only out of growing respect for Sean and also made a good combination together considering Sean’s tenacious and Isabel’s pragmatic approach.

However, while I found the coordination between Sean and Isabel to be praise worthy, however, I felt that as a reader, I couldn’t involve myself with any of the characters individually and in fact, Sean was even quite ignorant (well, how could someone be totally in the dark about a mass demonstration that was going to take place in his city of residence, especially with it being reported in the news for so many days). Moreover, the number of loose ends were a way too many beyond the tolerable limit for a thriller – just to name a few; the search at Sean’s house in Fulham – who did it and why was it done? Ultimately, it had no impact on the plot, either. The visit to Iraq is quite similar where they find no significant lead and the only result of it was the death of the Greek Orthodox priest (not to mention, there were several other similar pointless deaths – such as… well, nearly every acquaintance of Sean in Turkey). And to top it all, this list isn’t even exhaustive. Perhaps, the only justification for the loose ends is that there is a sequel but I guess following this, I’m hardly motivated to read it, following this novel.

While I had been reading that this work could be compared to that of Dan Brown’s, it inevitably led to a huge disappointment as it wasn’t even half as good as The Da Vinci Code with the only similarity being the occurrence of a murder in the prologue and historic references to happenings during an ancient era. I had very high hopes on the author’s work myself considering his tweets and the contents he shared in his blog that I was too keen to only read a story of his; only to be deceived, in the end. To my fellow readers – don’t read this expecting a The Da Vinci Code style thriller – have your expectations really low.

I had been looking for this novel for a really long time and considering the scarce availability of it in my country of residence, I bought it from a neighbouring country and considering my expectations, the effort I took in hunting for this novel, and it was a huge disappointment. I hope something better in the sequel, in case I find the sudden motivation to read it.

I’d be generous enough to award The Istanbul Puzzle a 4/10 (only for the description of Istanbul).

Rating – 4/10

Have a nice day,


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