“Anybody else but me would have left. He would have shrugged off these strange twists of fate and left. But I chose to stay. A chain of coincidences. God creates them, but lets you decide how to live through them.”
In Ahmet Altan’s brooding noir novel, Endgame, a crime writer on the hunt for a mountain home that will provide him with inspiration finds more than he bargained for. This frame story begins with the nameless writer sitting on a bench in a small remote Turkish town in the aftermath of a murder. Endgame then goes back in time to provide the back story to just how and why a man who writes about crime commits murder.
Our narrator isn’t a particularly successful writer, and his career, such as it is, has stalled when he travels to the Taurus Mountains “hoping to find a mountain village” where he could live and write. On the first leg of the journey, while flying in a plane, he meets a gorgeous woman named Zuhal. Later while driving on mountain roads he stops at a restaurant, and is served by the owner, Remzi. It’s a conversation with Remzi that seals the writer’s decision to stay in this coastal town: it’s a hot bed of crime with rival gangsters, including one named Oleander Ramiz, fighting over turf, murders occurring in broad daylight, a thriving marijuana industry, and rumours of buried treasure. And of course, since Zuhal lives here, her presence is an added incentive.
Over time, our narrator, thanks to his innate and we could say reckless curiosity, becomes involved with local society and its secrets. He’s definitely drawn to trouble and part of that is fermented in his desire for women. Before long, the writer has hot online sex with Zuhal (there’s an entire online subculture that the locals disappear to every afternoon), and the online sex develops into same-room sex. Of course the writer is courting disaster with Zuhal, the former mistress of the local mayor–a man who has ties to organised crime.
Above ground the men were engaged in disputes over land, power struggles and murder while women ruled the town with their urgent, uncontrollable sexual desires.
As if having sex with Zuhal isn’t dangerous enough, the writer also begins a tawdry sweaty affair with the mayor’s wife, a femme fatale figure who would definitely play one of those tacky bad blondes if this were film noir. But to complicate things even further, the writer also has sessions with the local prostitute, who because of her gangster customers, has been converted into a police informer. In between juggling these three women, the writer still has the energy to eyeball his housekeeper when she bends over.
I have always sought the dark side of a woman’s heart, and when I find it I indulge, prepared to pay the price later on.
Reading Endgame takes us into a different world, and yet the novel still has many of the signature elements of both crime and noir stories. There’s one scene when the writer is in Remzi’s restaurant, reading the newspaper and minding his own business (a habit he should learn to cultivate) when a murder takes place right in front of his eyes. The corrupt police chief, who drives a telltale Mercedes, conducts a cursory investigation, and it’s through this incident that the writer begins to grasp that life in this mountain town is conducted not by legal means but by those who have the power and the violence to enforce it.
Remzi acts as an interpreter of subtexts. At first the writer is ignorant of the local customs–since he’s stepped into a hotbed of murder and corruption, it takes him a while to work out who is on whose side and who is sleeping with who, but Remzi, a man who sees everything and understands the unspoken rules and the subtexts of seemingly innocuous or off beat remarks, interprets:
“I saw a sign back there, sea for sale,’ I said
‘Oleander wants to sell the beach.’
‘How could the beach be his?’ he said. looking at me as if I was a fool.
‘Well, how can he sell it then?’
‘He can’t … But he wants to’
There are a lot of characters here, and it wasn’t initially easy to keep them straight–especially since the word ‘Bey’ popped up several times and it took me a while to understand it’s a form of Turkish address. Once I got that, I stopped tripping over the names so much. The email exchanges between the writer and Zuhal were hard to wade through, and I found myself skimming over these.
Endgame allows a glimpse into a culture that is so foreign to the west, and yet oh so familiar when exploring greed, lust and murder. This is a slowburn novel, not a thriller, so be prepared to sit back and just enjoy the ride. The narrator’s commentary is laced with his laments to god. If this were an American noir novel, these railings to god would be our western railings at the cruelties of fate. I was initially bothered by these interruptions, but once I put them in their context, it made sense.
Translated by Alexander Dawe