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The Turkish Detective review – downright ridiculous, in a good way
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The Turkish Detective review – downright ridiculous, in a good way

In one of the opening scenes of The Turkish Detective – yes, it is about a detective, yes, it is set in Turkey and, yes, the extreme literalness of the title does presage this cop drama’s mentally undemanding nature – Turkish-born, British-raised police officer Mehmet Suleyman is picked up at Istanbul airport by his new boss, Inspector Ikmen. Asked why he decided to transfer from the Met, Suleyman begins to reply in Turkish, but his companion quickly interrupts. “No – English please, English! It’s good practice for me.”

Isn’t that lucky! Presumably everyone else Suleyman meets also needs to practise their language skills, from his estranged girlfriend to all the suspects in the murder case his team is assigned (Ikmen also speaks English to pretty much everyone outside his immediate family). Needless to say, it doesn’t ring particularly true, but then this series doesn’t exactly have authentic bona fides: written by Ben Schiffer, who worked on Skins, it is adapted from the Inspector Ikmen crime novels by Barbara Nadel, who was born in the East End and now resides in Essex.

It is not completely culturally ersatz. It is filmed in Istanbul, with the first two cases revolving around the swanky homes of the city’s upper crust. The cast members are largely Turkish, too – although some might recognise Haluk Bilginer, who stars as Ikmen, from his late 1980s stint on EastEnders (he played Mehmet Osman, womaniser, cafe-owner and, at one stage, Pat Butcher’s pimp). As Ikmen, Bilginer brings a boatload of charisma to a hackneyed role: the bumbling retirement-age detective who is actually sharp as a tack, a maverick and disarmingly charming to boot.

Ethan Kai, who also got his start on the UK soap scene (he is best known for his work on Emmerdale), can’t keep up as Suleyman, the young detective with mysterious motivations. Yet Suleyman is far too bland to cleave to any stereotype: perhaps channelling his restrained British side amid the chaos of his birthplace, he spends most of the time looking utterly blank. Yasemin Allen does her best with another stereotype: the suave, sarcastic female police officer. At least she can be grateful she is not bearded, bespectacled “resident tech genius Tarik.”

Ethan Kai in The Turkish Detective.View image in fullscreen

All this deeply cliched stuff means The Turkish Detective needs to kick off with a cracking plot if it has any hope of getting off the ground. Its introductory case – the murder of Gözde, teenage fiance of a prominent businessman – pulls this off by the skin of its teeth. Between her rage-fuelled father, extremely shady betrothed, on-the-run secret boyfriend and not-so-secret TikTok account (Ikmen’s teenage daughter is a follower), there are plenty of suspects and enough unguessable twists. However, it does fumble what could have been an interesting opportunity to discuss misogyny in Turkey. Ikmen’s daughter wants to deliver a speech at a memorial for Gözde; her message is that the onus shouldn’t be on girls to protect themselves, but on perpetrators to change their behaviour. This is dismissed as naive by her father – a belief given weight by his subsequent rescue of her. Elsewhere, the treatment of women feels positively queasy. Trying to taunt Gözde’s father into a confession, Ikmen asks: “Who could possibly want to hurt such a respectable, well-behaved young lady?” The subtext being, she isn’t. Does that mean she deserved to die?

Another woman who refuses to cleave to societal pressure is Suleyman’s ex-ish girlfriend, an investigative journalist. She doesn’t fare much better. Her predicament is soon revealed as the real reason he decided to return to Turkey: not long ago, she was hit by a car – presumably to prevent her publishing her recent findings – leaving her with devastating (and, it seems, medically senseless) head injuries. What cataclysmic crime had she unearthed? Suleyman’s off-the-books investigation into her accident would be a more reliable source of intrigue were it not for the singularly uncompelling presence of our guide.

Despite its setting, The Turkish Detective is classically cosy British detective fare. The team’s methods don’t quite stand up to scrutiny (sometimes they are downright ridiculous), but that’s OK – this is a soothing fantasy of the policing system, where truth is definitive and always excavated in the end. In fact, the series is so comforting it verges on the soporific. The oddest thing is its pacing: glacial at times, then incredibly brisk. There is a relaxed warmth to the setting and an unusual amount of dead air during conversation, which means I spend 90% of the time in a pleasantly glazed stupor. Between its relatively simple, reliably far-fetched plots and the dream-like dissonance of its British-flavoured Istanbul, The Turkish Detective certainly won’t keep you up at night – in fact, it may just help you drift off.

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Source: theguardian.com