The Abysssinian Proof

The Abysssinian Proof by Jenny White. Magistrate Kamil Pasha has a problem. He’s been given one week to solve a series of thefts of historic religious items, which are being smuggled out of Istanbul to Europe. In the turbulent late 19th century, these robberies from the mosques, synagogues and churches of the multicultural capital could unbalance the delicate peace that holds the city together. Of special interest is a small silver reliquary, which supposedly holds the Proof of God, a document of enormous religious significance sought by legitimate scholars and unscrupulous collectors alike. The Proof has been protected for centuries by a hidden sect, themselves small-time smugglers, but now outsiders have become aware of the Proof’s existence and are brutally hunting for it. Fortunately, Kamil is not without friends: Omar, a rugged police captain; Avi, a new apprentice at Kamil’s magistracy; Ismail Hodja, an imam with knowledge of many sects in the city; and Huseyin, the curator of the Imperial Museum.

Although Kamil himself is not a particularly vibrant personage, White does a fine job of bringing the city to life and developing the surrounding characters. In addition to those mentioned above, there are the Melisite leaders and the sect’s internal struggle as the next generation prepares to ascend to power. White also manages to convey both the slower, more formal personal interplay of the time and setting with the energy and action of the chase. Readers are also given glimpses of Kamil’s interest in orchids and art and the subplots involving his family’s history and a budding romance indicate that there is more to this magistrate than just his work.

The city of Istanbul has such a rich history that several mystery authors have chosen it for their setting. Readers should try Jason Goodwin’s “The Snake Stone” set in the 1830s, Michael Pearce’s “Dead Man in Istanbul” set in 1906, Alan Gordon’s fools solving a “Death in the Venetian Quarter” of 1204 Constantinople or Mary Reed and Eric Mayer describing John the Eunuch’s “Seven for a Secret” in 6th century Byzantium.

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