Not all crime fiction novels do and indeed should deal with ‘issues’ out there in the ‘real’ world. Some of my Çetin Ýkmen books do and some do not. However when I sat down to write ‘A Noble Killing’ (published by Headline January 2011) I knew that the time had come for me, and for Çetin, to tackle a very difficult problem.
The horror that is the so-called ‘honour’ killing had been something I had been aware of for some time. In Turkey it had, until comparatively recently, been viewed as an almost exclusively rural phenomenon. Honour killings of ‘bad’ girls and alleged adulteresses in distant villages were disturbing and horrific and pointed out the ‘backwardness’ of the people who lived in these alien environments. But then in the 1980s when mass migration from the countryside to the cities really began in earnest, what had been a rural problem morphed into an urban one. There is an old saying about not being able to ‘take the girl out of the village’ – meaning that rural/tribal values and mores change slowly and die-hard. The upshot has been more instances of alleged honour killings in Ýstanbul.
Stories came to me via the press and via friends and acquaintances. Ýstanbul had it’s first gay honour killing – a young man was murdered by his own father because his homosexuality ‘dishonoured’ his family. Fortunately the judiciary in Turkey do take this seriously and old loopholes, like getting a very young member of the family to perform the killing (thereby attracting a vastly attenuated prison sentence) are being plugged. However the problem of changing attitudes does not just lie with the law. The social dimension surrounding deaths of honour is, in a way, much more important. In small communities, like villages or little ruralised parts of a city, if someone points the finger of blame it can be serious. A person with a daughter perceived to be ‘bad’ can be shunned, his or her business boycotted or even attacked by his/her peers until something is ‘done’ about the recalcitrant girl. Social pressures like these are difficult to fight against.
Honour killings happen all over the world including in the UK and one of the things I wanted to get away from in ‘A Noble Killing’ was any connection to religion. Religion is often used as an excuse to commit this type of offence. But no mainstream faith can and does condone such acts. In fact one of the texts that really informed this novel was actually a Spanish play. The House of Bernada Alba by Federico Garcia Lorca paints a powerful picture of women as slaves to social and sexual mores in early twentieth century Spain. No more than an allusion to religion is in sight.
Researching this book was not exactly a pleasure, but it was fascinating to enter such an alien world and attempt to portray all its various facets. I hope that readers will feel the same way.
Barbara Nadel’s A Noble Killing is published in hardback by Headline on Thursday 6th January.