Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Murder that Started it All

The History behind The Thread of Reason

Let me start by expressing my appreciation to everyone who participated in yesterday’s launch of my novel, The Thread of Reason. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

The Thread of Reason is a mystery concerning the assassination of Nizam al-Mulk, who was the vizier (prime minister) of the Seljuq Empire, which stretched from the Mediterranean to the borders of India. He served the sultans Alp Arslan and Malik-shah. According to some accounts, Malik-shah had little interest in anything other than hunting and war, which left Nizam al-Mulk with the power and responsibility of day-to-day governing. His assassination was widely reported in the chronicles of the time (or near the time, anyway). For example, here’s what Al-Kamil fi’l-Tarikh (The Complete History) by Izz ad-Din ibn al-Athir (1160-1232/33) had to say,

On 10 Ramadan of this year [15 October 1092] the Vizier Nizam al-Mulk Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn Ali ibn Ishaq was killed near Nihavand. He and the sultan had been in Isfahan and had set out to return to Baghdad. After having arrived at this place and having finished his fast-breaking meal, he left in his litter to go to the womenfolk’s tent, when a Daylami youth, one of the Assassins, came to him in the guise of a suppliant or petitioner. He struck him with a dagger he had with him, and fled, leaving him dead. He stumbled over a tent guy-rope, which allowed men to catch up with him and kill him.

The killing of the assassin on the spot is what makes the murder such a ripe subject for a mystery novel: no one had the opportunity to question him and learn who, if anyone, he was working for. Historians have pondered this mystery for centuries, but as far as I know, the solution I came up with in The Thread of Reason is completely original. Check it out on

Michael Isenberg drinks bourbon and writes novels. His latest book, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092, and tells the story of the conflict between science and shari’ah in medieval Islam.

The quotation from ibn al-Athir comes from The Annals of the Seljuq Turks: Selections from al-Kamil fi’l-Tarikh of ‘Izz al-Din ibn al-Athir, London: RoutledgeCurzon (2002), tr. D.S.Richards, p. 253.

Photo credit: “The Assassination of Nizam al-Mulk” in Rashid ad-Din Tabib, Jami al-tavarikh, Topkapi Museum, Istanbul, Hazine Library Manuscript #1653, folio 360b (14th/15th century).

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