It is occasionally difficult to categorize or pigeonhole the work of Joseph Koenig. While as a general rule he fits comfortably into the hard-boiled crime classification, much of his output blurs the lines between genres. This is perhaps especially true with BRIDES OF BLOOD.
While the title is somewhat reminiscent of, say, a William Castle horror film, its subject matter is much deeper and arguably even darker than that. The lion’s share of BRIDES OF BLOOD occurs around 1989, approximately one decade after the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The narrative centers on Darius Bakhtiar, an unfortunate homicide detective with Teheran’s somewhat conflicted police force. Those enforcing codified law find themselves in a constant state of jockeying for position with the priests who in turn enforce Sharia law, the strict proscriptions of which take a superimposing precedent over the police. The American-educated Darius walks a personal and professional tightrope at all times; for but one example, he is an alcoholic in a country where intoxication --- a state with which he flirts constantly --- is punishable by whipping.
"It is interesting that, as I finished reading the book, a news report indicated that a Muslim cleric in Iran had been injured after being beaten by a woman whom he had chided for having her head partially uncovered. Perhaps she read BRIDES OF BLOOD and was inspired to take action. The book is worth reading for that possibility alone."
On the professional side, Darius is the responding detective when a young woman is found murdered in the early morning hours in Teheran. The killing is somewhat perplexing and difficult; she has been shot in the head, yet it is obvious almost from the start that she was beaten to death. Additionally, her makeup and clothing mark her as a prostitute. In the murky area between Sharia and criminal law, there is some question as to whether the death of a woman such as this is even a crime at all. Darius is ordered by his superiors to keep his investigation into the woman’s death a minimal one, but he cannot leave matters as they are. Haunted by what is revealed at the autopsy (you will be as well), Darius begins to dig more deeply into what has occurred than is comfortable for his superiors or for the black-clad priests who are seemingly omnipresent on the streets of the city.
Darius is equally troubled at home, where his wife devotes herself to her religion with a fanatic’s zeal, while he prays only minimally and to keep up appearances. When a second woman is killed, Darius is convinced that her murder is connected with that of the first victim. He is in a position of caring about the murdered ladies in a society where no one cares about women at all. Accordingly, it is ironic that his dogged investigation leads him to a secret society known as the “brides of blood,” a group of virgins who are tasked with martyring themselves in terrorist acts. All too soon, Darius finds himself running for his life after losing the job he loves for doing it far too well. Even when a past act of rough justice comes back to relentlessly haunt him, Darius remains true to himself, though his quest to achieve vengeance for the unfortunate victims may well lead to his own destruction.
BRIDES OF BLOOD has received criticism in some quarters for its realistic and unflinching depiction of a country and people under Sharia law, as if perhaps the plight of those so inflicted will be lessened if such is ignored. It is interesting that, as I finished reading the book, a news report indicated that a Muslim cleric in Iran had been injured after being beaten by a woman whom he had chided for having her head partially uncovered. Perhaps she read BRIDES OF BLOOD and was inspired to take action. The book is worth reading for that possibility alone.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 28, 2012