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Taner Baybars: A Trap for the Burglar

Taner Baybars’ only published novel is set in London. Initially, we only know the two main characters (a married couple) as he and she. The author later explains that his reason for doing this was that he could not come up with any convincing names, feeling that the names should reflect their characters. Later in the book, however, he relents and says that he feels that the characters should have names to make it easier for us and gives the couple the innocuous names of John and Jane, and their two friends the names Valerie and Victor. The eponymous burglar is named Artler.

At the start of the novel, John and Jane have been burgled three times. The first time, the burglar took relatively little. Indeed, they wonder why he bothered. The second time, he took a lot more, though exactly what is not specified. The third time, he took hardly anything, so much so that they only noticed when a cut flower seems to have been damaged. The insurance adjuster and the police cannot determine how he got in and what his motive was. Inevitably, they are very much concerned and Jane, in particular, is very upset.

At first, this seems like a normal marriage with a slightly unusual problem but we gradually realise other things are going in. It seems that both have something to hide and they are very much concerned lest the burglar finds their secret. Jane is a secret gambler, while John is having various affairs. Jane, indeed, suspects John might be up to something but she is not particularly concerned as long as it does not affect their home life. John had a long-term affair with Mary before he met Jane but it broke off and she moved away. He met Jane and they got married. However, Mary has now returned and she wants to resume the relationship. John is not entirely opposed to the idea.

Meanwhile, both suspect the other of being the burglar. How did he get in so easily, particularly since they have been very careful about securing the doors and windows? More particularly, was it just coincidence that the first burglary took place on John’s birthday, the second one on Jane’s birthday and the third on on their wedding anniversary? Each catches the other looking in unusual places in the house.

However, as the title tells us, John has decided to devise a trap to catch the burglar. This seems to be a complex cage, which the burglar will be caught in. He will not only not be able to get out but, at least part will have to face live wires so he will get a shock if he touches them. At first, John does not tell Jane, not least because he suspects her but eventually he does. He sets up the trap and is ready to put it into action.

However, at this point, Valerie, an old friend, arrives. She claims that she is pregnant and that her husband, Victor, has abused her, even threatening to cut her belly. She asks if she can stay with them for a while. Victor, meanwhile, is having psychiatric treatment in a hospital. John is unwell so his boss tells him to stay at home and indeed he does stay at home when Valerie is there. Clearly, he is feeling better, as he seduces Valerie and they have sex. However, he subsequently challenges Valerie’s story about Victor and accuses her of exaggerating or even outright telling lies.

Valerie decides to leave. John and Jane later get a letter from Victor, telling them Valerie has left him, giving a completely different account of what happened between them and asking their help in finding her. Meanwhile, more burglaries take place. Someone finally does get trapped in the cage – John.

This is something of a strange novel. It is written by a Turkish Cypriot poet but reads something like a mid-Sixties somewhat Absurdist English novelist, doubtless the sort of novelist Baybars would have come into touch with in London. It is not always clear what is going on or why. We may suspect John or Jane (or, indeed, Victor or Valerie) of being the burglar but there is no hard evidence for this. Clearly, Victor or Valerie (or both) is not telling the truth about their relationship, though we do get a sort of rational explanation for the disparity later on. It certainly is an interesting and relatively unusual novel but probably not to everyone’s taste.

Publishing history

First published by Peter Owen in 1965