Constantinople, May 1453. In the dying days of the Byzantine Empire, Isaak Metochites and his family are entrusted with a silver reliquary carved with the figure of a weeping angel and the inscription: Behold the Proof of Chora, Container of the Uncontainable. Four hundred years later, magistrate Kamil Pasha is plagued by thefts of antiquities from mosques and churches and a series of murders in which the bodies bear the same distinctive mark. Sources lead Kamil to a hidden sect descended from Abyssinian slaves living in an abandoned cistern in Istanbul's gritty underworld. The reemergence of the forgotten reliquary sets off a brutal race between those sworn to protect it and those who will stop at nothing to gain its explosive secret.
"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.
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A deftly plotted and clever tale of intrigue, duplicity, and violence."—Booklist, starred review
January 1888. Vera Arti carries The Communist Manifesto in Armenian through Istanbul's streets, unaware of the men following her. The police discover a shipload of guns, and the Imperial Ottoman Bank is blown up. Suspicion falls on a socialist commune that Arti's friends organized in the eastern mountains. Investigating, Special Prosecutor Kamil Pasha encounters a ruthless adversary in the secret police who has convinced the Sultan that the commune is leading an Armenian secessionist movement and should be destroyed, along with the surrounding villages. Kamil must stop the massacre, but he finds himself on the wrong side of the law, framed for murder and accused of treason, his family and the woman he loves threatened.
The Winter Thief explores the dark obsessions of the most powerful and dangerous men of the dying Ottoman Empire, as well as the era's mad idealism.