“Murders Are Not Committed in the Homes of Aristocracy Anymore” (May 17, 2016)
Graduating from Boğaziçi University Industrial Engineering Department in 1991, Esra Türkekul worked in the finance sector for many years before embarking on a colorful career working as a tour guide before moving to writing crime novels. Her first book, “Kapalıçarşı Cinayeti” (The Grand Bazaar Murder) was published in 2014; its sequel “Cadıbostanı Cinayeti” (Cadıbostanı Murder) was published recently.
We talked with Türkekul about her years at Boğaziçi University, her extraordinary career adventure and crime fiction.
I finished Science High School in 1986. I did not make a very conscious choice of what to study at the university. All of my friends had selected engineering departments, so I selected Industrial Engineering. It was a new department, its base score was quite high, but none of us knew anything about the department. When I said Industrial Engineering to people who asked, they would say, “Well, it is better than nothing!” I was not a very successful student but Boğaziçi contributed a lot to me. Boğaziçi has a wonderful student profile. There were a lot of people I have discussion or exchange ideas with. I think engineering gives you a formation that can be used in every sector. An engineer’s approach to any issue is well organized; they have highly developed analytical thinking skills. When I graduated in 1991, I started working in the finance sector. Actually there were a lot of engineers working in the finance sector then. That was the period when banking was on the rise. Banking was the most advanced sector; they were investing in technology, they were far removed from the individually owned company type, and they were well organized, in the international sense of the word and their use of new management techniques. I worked for many years in the finance sector: Körfez Bank, Koç Bank, and then Ege Bank. Subsequently, I worked for Beymen, Benetton and Advantage Card, and they I quit professional working life, without knowing what I was going to do. I cannot say I did not like professional life, but I hadn’t been able to find myself.
How about your adventure as a tour guide?
After leaving the corporate world in 2008, I learned Spanish. The exam for tour guides was not offered in English in Istanbul that year, so I took the test in Spanish and passed. Then I attended the training courses for 6 months. We learned European based history of art, archeology and mythology from the early ages up to today. In 40 days we toured the whole of Turkey. I could not cope with the following period where you are “ready” or “mature”, as they called it. But being a guide was difficult. You know, like when you are driving for the first time, every movement is very consciously made, and then it becomes automatic. Our maturity period was like driving for the first time. I tried, but I did not work as a tour guide for a long time. You need nerves of steel for that job. But I still have my license.
Then how did you start writing?
At that period, I was trying everything, from baking to ceramics. I don’t know how I thought of it, but wanted to try writing. I used to read a lot during my school years, but I had not written anything. My first book took me three years to write. Write and delete, trial and error, etc. What I liked one day I did not like a month later; I kept moving the stones, so to say. When I was younger I was afraid of not being liked if I wrote. After I reached a certain age, that fear disappeared; maybe that’s why I wrote more comfortably now. You know, if you are a bad doctor you can kill a patent, but I thought, “If I write badly, I won’t hurt anyone.” I think everyone can write a novel, if they put in the hard work. Writing is important for discovering yourself, for pushing your limits.
Why crime fiction in particular?
I have always like crime fiction. You have a mystery, you approach it rationally, and you solve it: that relaxed me. I like the way everything that happens in the book falls into place, gains a meaning at the end of the book. That prevents disorder. I was inexperienced, so characterization was at the forefront first. In the second book, I have the Berna character again and this time the storyline is emphasized.
When you say crime fiction, one thinks of many different genres. How do you assess your style?
In crime fiction there are various periods and trends; psychological suspense, for instance. Mine is the British “mystery novel” genre. If you expand it, it can be mafia, crime fiction or police fiction, too. In the mystery novel, Agatha Christie and those who came after her made the murders interesting. But then strange mechanisms and plans began competing with the ordinariness of the murder. That takes away the realism and renders the characters paper figures. Because the probability of a crime of that kind being committed, or the probability of there being a person who can commit such an act in reality is next to zero. Then comes the ‘roman noir’ period and they pay closer attention to realism. Police fiction fails to do that.
I want to create ordinary characters and make them give the reader a sense of reality. I am trying to find a balance between having an extraordinary crime that attracts the reader and my characters being living persons. For example, if you attribute a lot to a detective, such as a super memory, he moves away from reality. For me, it is more interesting to discover what an ordinary person can be capable of doing. It is more enjoyable to discover what an ordinary person can do. Following the struggles of an ordinary person attracts me more. I filter what I s write through the filter of the middle class and stylize accordingly. With writers like Ahmet Ümit and Emrah Serbes police novels became a very popular, they lost their characteristic of being read by keen fans of police fiction. Roman noir genre will increase in Turkey in time. I am thinking of writing the third sequel to my novel now. But after that, I may try different things.
In your Cadıbostanı Cinayeti there is a subtle reference to urban renewal in Caddebostan. Does your environment affect you as you are writing?
Yes, in Cadıbostanı Cinayeti there is a subtle reference to urban renewal in Caddebostan. But I did not want to focus on that issue. The book developed in a different way. Instead of building the story around major phenomena and important social events, I refer to them as much as that character or that middle class is involved in them. I transfer to the book whatever topics I may be thinking think about at that time. My heroine Berna likes to drink. Among detective characters, there are a lot of alcoholics. That is a cliché but I am interested in the issue of addiction. I investigate, I read. But the third sequel will be on a different topic.
Do you support the idea that societies turn to police novels during times of crisis as a means of escape? Can you fit police novels into this definition?
There is the element of escape, yes. But the police novel goes beyond the idea of escape. For example, it has the characteristic of being read by the bored middle class to spend time. But there are also genres that use social events heavily, like Scandinavian fiction. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a good example. There is a lot of crime fiction with fascism, or refugee problems in the background. Actually the police novel has evolved a lot, it has changed. The habits of the Golden Age have disappeared. Police stories are no longer murders committed in the homes of aristocracy. At that point, I think police novels stopped being a means of escape. Other novels can provide an escape, too; so I think describing today’s police novel like that would not be right.
Interview: Duygu Durgun Köseoğlu, Office of Corporate Communications