The Dervish House, on the other hand, is set in Istanbul, far from its author’s stomping ground and yet it is intelligently conceived, brilliantly described where Vasilevousa Polis (the queen of cities) – Istanbul is as much a character as are the six others whose intertwining stories form the central thread of what I suppose is essentially a thriller. Most of these characters live or work at a converted 17th century tekye or dervish house – a building where a Sufi brotherhood would have once gathered. The year is 2027 and Turkey has just joined the European Union.
Can Durukan is a precocious nine year old who has a heart condition and must wear ear plugs to protect him from all noise. Can explores the world outside his house with bitbots – nanotechnology rules the roost. His neighbour Georgios Ferentinou, a retired economics professor, comes from an ancient dying community – the Greeks of Istanbul. He passes his time by running a sort of futures market for terrorist attacks. The dervish house also contains a shop that deals in religious antiquities, run by Ayşe Erkoç, an erudite and independent woman who seems the antithesis of her husband, Adnan Sarioğlu, a commodities trader who makes millions from dodgy deals in natural gas. Leyla Gültaşli is an unemployed marketing graduate who lives in one of the flats at the dervish house. Her family gets her job convincing venture capitalists to invest in a company experimenting on using DNA in the human body to store information and turning the body into a computer. Finally, Necdet Hasguler is a part of a religious order who’ve reoccupied the tekye. The book, in fact, begins with Necdet who the narrative zooms into; from far above the Bosporus, we plunge into a tram on which Necdet witnesses a suicide bomber trigger a bomb whose only consequence is the decapitation of her own head. Immediately after, Necdet begins to see visions of jinn.
There are many parallel but interconnected stories in the Dervish House. One that really stands out for its novelty value is the quest an eccentric client sends Ayşe on – the discovery of a mellified man – a cadaver which is preserved in acoffin filled with honey which then apparently has significant medicinal value. McDonald has picked this up from a reference in a medieval Chinese manuscript about a curative practice in Arabia. This was the only weak element in the book. I particularly found the manner in which the quest was resolved very Dan Brownish. Nonetheless, The Dervish House is a great example of how wonderfully creative and gifted its author is. What I really appreciate about McDonald is he seems to want to give his readers something that’s original, intelligent and yet completely fun. The Dervish House is in fact the third in an unconnected trilogy, all set in the developing world of today, only in the future. I’ve read and loved the first – River of Gods and I’ve just started the second – Brasyl.