The Istanbul Puzzle might be the first novel by Laurence O’Bryan but it is such a confident, atmospheric and thoroughly gripping thriller that I’m relieved to report that the second, The Jerusalem Puzzle, will follow after just a year. That book will continue the adventures of the two extremely likeable leads introduced to us here: Sean Ryan, a director of the Institute of Applied Research in Oxford, and Isabel Sharp, a British diplomat in Istanbul. Their dayjobs are about to get a little unpredictable…
Their task here is to uncover the murderer of Sean’s friend and colleague Alex, whose beheaded body has been found close to the Hagia Sophia. But as they inch closer to revealing the truth, the threat to Istanbul, to London and to the rest of the world increases by the hour. What did Alex stumble across? And what dreadful legacy from the ancient city is about to be unleashed?
The answers to the secrets lie under the very heart of Istanbul, in the Roman and medieval cisterns, sewers and underground tunnels. Sean and Isabel are both very human and attractive protagonists. They don’t face danger and deceit with the bravado of comic book characters and they’re not the stereotypes found in some thrillers. When they’re in the tunnels, trapped under water and nibbled at by terrifying shapes in the dark, their fear and panic are tangible and the pages will fly through your fingers. O’Bryan knows Istanbul, as becomes clear in his enjoyable guide to a day spent exploring the sites of the city that closes the book. This knowledge adds colour and depth to Sean and Isabel’s adventures around and under the city. You can almost taste the damp in the air and feel the crush of the busy streets.
The threat that waits through the novel is all the more frightening because it is something that could conceivably happen as terrorism changes its shape. But it’s also terrifying because humanity has faced this catastrophe before, albeit it inflicted by nature and not by a man pressing a button, in the Middle Ages and in the post-Roman years. It could happen again. The stakes are very high and the clock is ticking. Istanbul, the meeting place of continents, cultures and religions provides the perfect setting.
The Istanbul Puzzle is the first in a series of novels and so we have much to learn about Sean and Isabel’s background and natures. Both are turning a corner in their lives and discovering that they have a great deal to lose. The book is extremely well-written, with prose that manages to be both to-the-point and colourfully descriptive. The dialogue is particularly excellent and there were a couple of lines that made me guffaw out loud. Just as you would expect from a good thriller, The Istanbul Puzzle is indeed unputdownable. I was very sorry to finish it in little over a day and I’m grateful for being given the chance to read an early proof.
Do keep an eye on the author’s website for competitions and further information about the book and its characters.