The Sultan's Seal (Kamil Pasha Series #1)

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"A wonderful read…. An historical novel of the highest quality."—Iain Pears
Rich in sensuous detail, this first novel brilliantly captures the political and social upheavals of the waning Ottoman Empire. The naked body of a young Englishwoman washes up in Istanbul wearing a pendant inscribed with the seal of the deposed sultan. The death resembles the murder by strangulation of another English governess, a crime that was never solved. Kamil Pasha, a magistrate in the new secular courts, sets out to find the ...

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The Sultan's Seal (Kamil Pasha Series #1)

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"A wonderful read…. An historical novel of the highest quality."—Iain Pears
Rich in sensuous detail, this first novel brilliantly captures the political and social upheavals of the waning Ottoman Empire. The naked body of a young Englishwoman washes up in Istanbul wearing a pendant inscribed with the seal of the deposed sultan. The death resembles the murder by strangulation of another English governess, a crime that was never solved. Kamil Pasha, a magistrate in the new secular courts, sets out to find the killer, but his dispassionate belief in science and modernity is shaken by betrayal and widening danger. In a lush, mystical voice, a young Muslim woman, Jaanan, recounts her own relationships with one of the dead women and her suspected killer. Were these political murders involving the palace or crimes of personal passion? An absorbing tale that transports the reader to nineteenth-century Turkey, this novel is also a lyrical meditation on the contradictory desires of the human soul. Reading group guide included. Includes the first chapter of the next Kamil Pasha novel.

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Editorial Reviews

Diana Gabaldon
“Intricate and subtle as a Turkish carpet, lush as silk upon the skin. . . . A fascinating and remarkably knowledgeable look at a society in flux, its very appealing characters caught between East and West, Islam and Christianity, and bound in a web of murder and treachery that only the lucky few may escape.”
Elif Shafak
“Set in nineteenth-century Istanbul, The Sultan’s Seal lingers in the mind like the strong, delightful smell of an incense you will remember the next time you catch it in the air.”
“Starred Review. CSI goes Ottoman Empire . . . with readers easily transported back to those days when mystery and intrigue lurked around every corner.”
Publishers Weekly
Historical drama meets traditional murder mystery in this uneven but passionate debut. Istanbul in 1886 is in a state of enormous political and social unrest. Upper-class society has evolved a strange new stratum combining British expatriates, colonials and the clashing traditional and modern Turks, all struggling to find their place as the Ottoman Empire wanes. The citizens of Istanbul are leery of the bold and immodest behavior of the Englishwomen in their midst, but all are shocked when young Mary Dixon, governess at the imperial harem, is discovered brutally murdered. Few seem to have known the quiet, retiring Mary, but readers snatch a glimpse in the interwoven story of Jaanan, a young Turkish woman about to be forced into marriage to a man she hates and who has a strange connection to the murdered woman. The writing is lyrical and the characters enchanting, particularly Kamil Pasha, the region's magistrate, who finds himself entangled in the case. But the rich historical setting makes an uneasy match with the whodunit sleuthing; neither ends up being able to sustain the book, particularly given the placid pace of the investigation. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
It is hard not to think about the current strife in the Middle East while reading Jenny White's debut mystery. Set in 1890s Turkey, the story unfolds amid the turmoil of a weakening Ottoman Empire and a rising secular dissent. Kamil Pasha, a local magistrate, finds himself investigating the delicate matter of an English woman found naked and murdered. His inquiry introduces him to the daughter of the English Ambassador, Sybil. She helps Kamil by linking his current case to the unsolved murder of another English woman. Kamil becomes caught between his own adherence to tradition and his desire to find justice for both women. When he chooses to challenge tradition he endangers his career and safety. A large and diverse cast of characters, ranging from apparent allies with dark secrets to servants with hidden agendas, aid and hinder Kamil's work. Despite the artfully fashioned mystery, the story shifts awkwardly from three points of view: a present tense unraveling of the mystery; a first person account of Jaanan, a witness to events in the past; and a series of letters that allow the reader into Sybil's thoughts. There are discrete references to homosexuality and rape. White sometimes fails to provide enough context or definition for the reader to understand the importance of a multitude of Arabic, Ottoman, Muslim, and even Chinese references. But those interested in the culture, art, and politics of the Ottoman Empire will revel in all the richly embroidered details that bring Kamil's adventure to life. 2006, W. W. Norton & Company, Ages 16 up.
—L. F. Wade
KLIATT - Nola Theiss
This novel is all about its setting—Istanbul in 1866. The Ottoman Empire is in its last days and the traditions and way of life it represents are eroding around the edges. When a young Englishwoman's body is found washed ashore, the authorities become involved in solving her murder. This leads to a renewed interest in another Englishwoman's murder years before and to the inner workings of Turkish society. Both women had worked as governesses for high-ranking Turkish officials. The unusual pendant bearing the Sultan's seal that both murdered victims wear ties them to Turkish inner circles, where the investigators encounter young women who seem to know more than they're telling about the murders. The author sometimes seems to forget that there is a mystery to be solved as the intrigues of society and the fate of its young women, some of whom still want to live in the old ways and others who are rebelling against arranged marriages and the inequities between men and women, become her focus. The young Turkish woman Janeen, who is resisting marriage to a man who rapes her but is her family's choice, is the symbol of the corruption of the old society. Although the story is complicated and confusing in parts, the writing is good and the setting makes this an interesting tale about the waning days of the Ottoman Empire.
Library Journal
The naked body of a young Englishwoman washes ashore in Istanbul and the pendant around her neck connects her to the royal household and possibly to the murder of an English governess years earlier. Then Janaan, a young Muslim woman resisting an arranged marriage, slowly reveals her connections to both dead women. Magistrate Kamil Pasha has no idea where the investigation will lead, and despite his attempts to rely on scientific analysis, he must operate within a web of political and personal intrigues. As subplots intertwine, trust disintegrates until neither the book's characters nor its readers know who will betray whom. White brings extensive knowledge of Ottoman culture to her writing, but at times the amount of detail and number of characters overwhelm rather than clarify the plot. Although the mystery of the woman's death ultimately is revealed, many loose ends suggest either a sequel or a lack of attention to detail. This book will probably appeal more to fans of historical fiction than mystery readers. Despite its limitations, it is worth considering for public library collections, particularly because it holds the promise of strong successors. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/05.]-Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A Turkish murder mystery, love story and cultural/historical panorama, told from three points of view. White uses a dead body-drugged, drowned English governess Mary Dixon, who worked at the imperial court and is found floating in the Bosphorus-as the point of entry into this evocation of the waning days of the Ottoman empire, a world of eunuchs, harems, secret police, bath houses and bazaars, teetering on the brink of modernism and dissolution. Kamil Pasha, an Istanbul magistrate, has the task of investigating the crime. Thoughtful and honorable, Kamil works at a careful pace, assisted by a Jewish surgeon, Michel Sevy. During his enquiries he meets Sybil, the under-occupied daughter of the British ambassador, who joins the detection team, offering access to female members of society and the court who are off limits to Kamil. An interest inevitably develops between the magistrate and the Englishwoman. More exotic and complicated is the story of Jaanan, a well-born girl whose life is crammed with incident: She is raped by a prospective husband favored by her father; kidnapped by a cousin who has been forced into political exile and is also linked to another, earlier murder of a British governess; and was once propositioned by Mary Dixon who, it seems, was a lesbian. Although the story loses its way in a fog of exposition and overlapping intrigues, White's intelligent, sensuous writing marks a promising debut.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393329209
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/5/2007
  • Series: Kamil Pasha Series, #1
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 580,242
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jenny White is the author of the Kamil Pasha series: The Sultan’s Sea (a finalist for the Ellis Peters Historical Crime Award), The Abyssinian Proof and The Winter Thief. She is a professor of anthropology at Boston University, specializing in Turkey.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 19, 2012

    Highly recommended.

    Intriguing, entertaining and all together a wonderful book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A terrific late nineteenth century police procedural

    In 1886 as the Ottoman Empire shows signs of old age lethargy, the upper elite of society is a hodgepodge of British expatriates mingling with Turks. However, most natives of Istanbul are concerned with what is perceived the outrageous avante garde behavior of Englishwomen.------- Thus the Turks are not stunned to learn of the drowning death of and Englishwoman, imperial harem governess Mary Dixon, whose drugged body was found in the Bosphorus. Though she was considered reticent and no social butterfly however, her home country expatriates are shocked as they felt they were superior to the masses and thus quite safe. . Magistrate Kamil Pasha leads the official investigation assisted by Jewish surgeon, Michel Sevy. Upon seeing the corpse, Michel says the victim was too healthy to have been an opium user this she was murdered by drug poisoning. However, neither have access to the pillars of society especially females where the case leads. Thus the Magistrate enlists Sybil Hanoun, daughter of the British ambassador, to join his team. They soon find an apparent sexual link between the deceased and Jaanan, raped by the man chosen by her father as her husband and propositioned by the dead Mary.----- THE SULTAN¿S SEAL is a terrific late nineteenth century police procedural that shines a deep light on Turkey at an interesting moment when the Ottoman Empire is starting to collapse. Though too many suspenseful sidebars causing some difficulty following the inquiries, the who-done-it is deftly developed so that the audience understands the societal pecking order, however takes a back seat to the rich historical tidbits. Fans who enjoy a lot of history in their mystery will want to read J.B. White¿s fine tale.---- Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Characterizations are rich, and racy...

    Interesting read. She's a local author for me--Boston University professor of anthropology. Enough sex of all kinds in there...reminded me of the kind of thing that thrilled me as a young maiden just glimpsing the possibilities. I do like her central character--a Turkish magistrate of strong character. I imagine swarthy skin and white flowing robes...and perhaps a blood-red fez...this is a murder mystery after all. The female character of Turkish descent is also interesting (and is the one getting all the sex, amazingly), but not so much the pudgy British woman who giggles inappropriately and blithely prattles on about murder clues to ones who have to then try to silence her--permanently. The thread was nearly lost about halfway through, but the author pulls it off in the end. Would like to have a look at the new one the author has out now--she could definitely have made a series with that swarthy magistrate. I really liked him...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent read!!

    Enjoyed the lead character and the plot.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

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    In 1886 Istanbul social unrest is heating up especially with the numerous British expatriates living the good life in the city while many Turks struggle as the once mighty Ottoman Empire nears collapse. Many of the locals are especially outraged by the total disregard of native custom by these aristocratic British immigrants, who flaunt their immodesty.------------- However, both groups are stunned when royal governess Mary Dixon is brutally murdered. The English demand swift justice while many Turks believe she deserved it as all English females are brazen. In reality few knew the reticent Mary. At the same time Magistrate Kamil Pasha investigates the homicide while also struggling to keep the peace between the angry groups, a local girl Jaanan is forced by her family to marry a man she fears almost as much as she loathes even as he is linked to the English victim.------------------ Jenny White paints a powerful and colorful panorama of late nineteenth century Istanbul at a time when national fervor is heated in every corner of the capital city. Though Kamil is a fascinating protagonist struggling with a difficult case made geometrically harder by English and Turkish demands, the whodunit takes a back seat to touring 1886 Istanbul. Fans will enjoy visiting the palace especially the harem, the various ethnic quarters and finally the affluent European section mostly English expatriates that anger the native purists with its gaudy brashness.------------ Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted August 27, 2009

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