As far as I know, and correct me if I’m wrong (I’m sure you will), but I don’t think that crime fiction is over-endowed with drop-dead sexy men. There might be a few villains that fall into that category but I don’t see a lot of people swooning over Hercule Poirot or getting the vapours for Cadfael. The late great Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen was always a bit on the hot to trot side, I always thought, but that is about it.
For many years I wondered why this was. Then I started writing a drop-dead sexy man myself and I found out. There is a very good reason.
The junior of my two Turkish protagonists, Mehmet Suleyman, is the kind of man both women and gay men want to seduce. Even some straight men are tempted. He walks into a room and all the other men become invisible. Tall, handsome, charming and intelligent he is also the grandson of an Ottoman prince. I mean, what is not to like?
Not very much, if I’m honest, although I do have one beef. But more of that, later.
People, or rather women, often ask me whether this character is based upon anyone I know. Some people also ask about the model for my main character, the shambolic but scrupulously honest, Cetin Ikmen. I tell them he is largely my late father, which is true. But Suleyman? Well no he is a composite of a lot of people I have met or seen in the last God knows how many years. I’ve only seen the exact face and body I have in my mind once.
Many years ago, when I was younger than my son is now, I went to Turkey with a friend. We visited Istanbul and then went on to Cappadocia which was somewhere my friend had never been to before. After marvelling at the weird geography of the area (and laughing at the volcanic ‘Fairy Chimneys’ some of which can look incredibly phallic) we took off to a place called Derinkuyu. This small town is famous for only one thing which is the enormous underground city that lies beneath its streets. This vast complex which was once used by the early Christians to hide from various and frequent invading hoards, is one of the most fascinating sights in the district. It is truly wonderful – provided you can do enclosed places. Which I can’t.
So my friend and I waited with a load of other people for our guide. Alison, my friend, looked calmly and with interest at her surroundings, while I turned into the love-child of Woody Allen and Gene Wilder’s neurotic ‘Blum’ character in ‘The Producers’. But I kept the gibbering down and so Alison thought I was OK when she suddenly nudged me, pointed, and said, ‘Look. Suleyman.’
I turned my tension paralysed neck with some difficulty, but I did see where she was pointing. A policeman, about my own age at the time, so young, was leaning against a wall, smoking a cigarette. I experienced a rush of what can only be described as lust and I wasn’t alone. Every other woman in his vicinity was staring too. And he knew it. I should also add that I experienced guilt too – I was married with a child at school. I knew that if I actually spoke to him I’d have to be in therapy for years.
Tall, handsome, arrogant, he was probably an insufferable narcissist. But it didn’t matter. It doesn’t when you’re in the presence of someone like him because these sexy beasts are rare. Sorry guys, but they are. Men who make your skin burn are not ten a penny. But, at least he took my mind off the enclosed space I then descended into without so much as a comfort blanket. I’d seen Mehmet Suleyman and I was by turns fascinated and haunted by that sighting for some days.
Call it my authorial skill or some sort of weird psychological trick, but I’ve been lucky enough to be able to get that kind of feeling about him onto the pages of my book ever since. I know people who claim to be ‘fanatical’ about him. I know others who dream about him. That he doesn’t exist is not important. So, to get to the point, why do I have a beef with this extraordinary creature?
Well, it’s because he distracts. He distracts from the plot of my books, from my main protagonist, Ikmen, and from what he himself does as a professional too. I’ve just written my 19th Ikmen book and, guess what? Some poor sap has nearly fainted when he’s walked into a room. But what can I do? I created this rare creature and that is how people respond to him.
So, if you are a writer, then my advice to you is to steer clear of sexy beasts because, trust me, they don’t know when to stop because they can’t stop. Stick to old ladies, troubled alcoholics and young women with issues. Sexy beasts will take up more word count than you can possibly imagine as you attempt to solve their ‘commitment issues’ (which they always have) alongside your actual crime content. Don’t do it.
Writing to you from the print-face of my latest Ikmen novel, utterly exhausted, Barbara Nadel.