The Paris Review

The Sultan, the Armenian, and the Gaslight Mystery

Monsieur Ara in his lamp workshop. Photo: Aysegul Savas.

Through wider labyrinths of lamplighted city. —Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Of the ten thousand books in the library of Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II, two thousand were detective novels. Abdülhamid also founded the first secret service and sent spies across the empire to report to him. Many sources cite these two facts—the Sultan’s love of mystery novels and his secret service—back to back. I agree that the story, told like this, stirs the imagination.

*

Inside a blue shop at the end of rue Flatters in Paris, lamps hang from every inch of the ceiling. There are globes and barrels, in brass and opaline, in marbling swirls of orange and red, dark green, blue, and pink. Lamps line the shelves, spilling over to the crimson carpet on the wooden floor; mantles, finials, and valves are stacked in every nook.

The shop, however, is dimly lit, a faint smell of gas coming from the back room where the proprietor, Monsieur Ara, with large square spectacles, trimmed beard, bow tie, and vest, sorts through his collection of thousands of pieces. Bent over the large worktable on his high stool, he fixes lamps, strings glass beads for fringes, and demonstrates the history of lighting to his visitors—from round wick to flat yellow flame to blue—illuminating the scientific discoveries of the Industrial Revolution one

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Paris Review

The Paris Review5 min read
Six Young Women and Their Book Collections
In 2017, Honey & Wax Booksellers established an annual prize for American women book collectors, aged thirty years and younger. The idea took shape when Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney, the bookstore’s owners, observed that “the women who regula
The Paris Review2 min read
Redux: Volume and Color
Every week, the editors of The Paris Review lift the paywall on a selection of interviews, stories, poems, and more from the magazine’s archive. You can have these unlocked pieces delivered straight to your inbox every Sunday by signing up for the Re
The Paris Review6 min read
Artworks in the Room Where I Write
Diane Williams’s story “Garden Magic” appears in our Fall 2019 issue. We asked her to give us a tour of the objects in her office. The artworks in the room where I write inhabit my fiction everywhere, and those of them that are not explicitly conju