Ayesha Dean – The Istanbul Intrigue by Melati Lum is a detective novel with an original setting and main character. Ayesha Dean is an 18-year-old Australian girl who has just finished her final year at high school. Ayesha’s parents died when she was still a baby and Uncle Dave is her closest relative in Australia. Ayesha’s father was born into an Australian family of English heritage and he became a Muslim in his early twenties. He met Ayesha’s mother in Indonesia. Uncle Dave was not a religious man, but Ayesha’s parents wanted her to be brought up as a Muslim. Ayesha lives with Uncle Dave and Aunt Lily. Every weekend Uncle Dave drives her to the nearest mosque to learn about Islam and to read the Quran.
Sara and Jess have been Ayesha’s best friends since the first day of high school. It was also the first time that Ayesha had been wearing hijab at school. Sara is part of an Australian-Lebanese Christian family while Jess has curly blonde hair and it’s very nice to see that they are really good friends despite their different background.
Ayesha wants to become a detective. She loves learning martial arts and has been training in Tae Kwon Do since she was ten. Ayesha also likes dressing in a fashionable way wearing boots, skinny jeans, an oversized knit and a turban as we can see in the nice book cover.
The three girls visit Istanbul alone while Ayesha’s uncle and Sara’s father are attending a conference. Ayesha buys an old book for her uncle, but she finds a folded paper hidden in its cover. Emre, the son of the bookshop’s owner is tall, dark-haired and handsome. He looks about eighteen or nineteen years old. He is interested in Ayesha and the girl has the same feelings for him. Thanks to the secret message, Ayesha finds a key hidden behind a loose stone in the Topkapi Palace.
I must admit that I didn’t like the stereotypes typical of adventure stories like the secret message and the mysterious key hidden in the wall of an ancient palace and I also think that the most boring parts are those about the story of Ibn Arabi and his writing and the lengthy descriptions of the Topkapi Palace while it was interesting reading about Turkish food and Ayesha’s outfits.
Fortunately the narrative rhythm becomes then more fast-paced and entertaining. Ayesha puts herself and her friends in danger with her treasure hunt, but she doesn’t seem too much worried. According to the author, this book is aimed at pre-teens, but this sounds really strange since the protagonist is already 18 years old and her risky behaviour wouldn’t be a very good example for such young readers.
Ayesha’s main antagonist is Yavuz Aksoy who grew up in America and developed western bad habits like drinking alcohol. He is the heir to the rich Bilal Aksoy, the man who had written the hidden note. Yavuz kidnaps Ayesha and takes the little key she had found hidden in a wall of the Topkapi Palace. He wants to use it to open his dead uncle’s safety deposit. Yavuz wants to find the ancient manuscript and sell it, but he is arrested by the police and the manuscript is donated to the Suleymaniye Library. Ayesha’s travel has come to an end, but both she and Emre hope their “friendship” will go on.
My final thoughts? I liked more the bad guy Yavuz than the nosy do-gooder heroine Ayesha.