The Fabric of Night
by Christoph Peters
Death in Istanbul
A review by Dennis Drabelle
This novel breaks rules and gets away with it. It looks like a
thriller, acts like a character study and leaves the reader pondering
its own narrative structure.
The Fabric of Night takes
place in Istanbul, where a 28-year-old German sculptor named Albin
Kranz is vacationing with his longtime girlfriend, Livia. Albin is also
keeping company with alcohol, but that's nothing new: They've been
tight, if you will, for years. As a rule, he tries to hide his habit --
or at least the extent of it -- from Livia, though she doesn't miss
Besides her lover's drunkenness, Livia has to put up with
being constantly tested. As Albin admits in one of the interior
monologues that take up about half the book, for the five years they've
been together, he's been "trying to find out if she loved [him], and if
she did, whether her love had limits." Just now, he's pretty sure it
does: Livia isn't hiding her interest in an art student, Jan, who
belongs to a group from Frankfurt with whom she and Albin have teamed
up to sightsee.
But Albin is indifferent to Livia's looming
betrayal because he's become obsessed with a crime. As he watched and
listened from across the street, Miller, an American gem dealer and
fellow carouser, was out on the balcony of his hotel room, breakfasting
with a female companion. Just after Miller uttered an oddly worded
sentence ("Take care of you, baby"), "a sound sizzled over the
rooftops, a short, sharp sound like rubber bursting or the cork coming
out of a wine bottle, and Miller fell forward," dead.
been all, had the hotel acted responsibly and the police gone to work
on the case, Albin might have just given his eyewitness report and
returned to his boozing. But when he went over to see where things
stood, the hotel desk clerk not only denied that any such thing had
happened but added, "There's no Mr. Miller registered here." Annoyed
and tantalized, Albin sets out to find the real Turkey, not the package
of antiquities and quaint customs or even the port-of-call
salaciousness that most foreigners settle for. But he's no romantic in
search of self-transcendence; he's a flawed but decent guy, a besotted
Everyman trying to get to the bottom of a murder.
Berliner whose second novel this is, takes the reader on a vivid tour
of Istanbul, with savvy-sounding commentary on such aspects as the
"floral ornamentation on Islamic art." One theory traces the motif back
to the Gardens of Bliss mentioned in the Koran. Another cites the
influence of imported Chinese porcelain. "I like the idea of the
gardens," says one of the Germans. This reader does, too.
travelers who swear by the Rough Guides may be surprised -- and
unnerved -- by Albin's forays into Istanbul's underworld. His harrowing
excursion to the Gypsy district, which he undertakes in spite of
warnings to stay away, speaks eloquently for keeping to well-trodden
paths. Peters's dialogue, as rendered in John Cullen's artful
translation, is pungent and fraught. At the end of a long, affable
conversation with a rug-dealer, Albin is told, "You've lost your game,
my friend." The dealer isn't talking about carpets anymore, and it's a
chilling moment because until then, Albin's fishing for information had
seemed quite skillful.
In the end, though, a book with the
elements of a mystery doesn't stay true to form. Peters is more
interested in portraying a troubled artist against the backdrop of a
culture clash, in exploring the ravages and comforts of excessive
drinking, in depicting the heroism and hubris of trying to penetrate a
foreign nation's criminal milieu, than in spinning a puzzle-plot. He
carries out these intentions so well that, despite leaving some
questions unanswered, The Fabric of Night is absorbing and strangely satisfying.
Dennis Drabelle is a contributing editor of Book World.
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