The murderer asks if the reader was able to identify him through the drawing competition. He admits that he knew immediately that the competition was a trap in order to identify the creator of the horse drawings found on Elegant’s body, but he believes there is no flaw or signature in his work that could be used to identify him. The murderer walks through a market, past shops, and into the street kitchen where he often eats dinner. The Syrian cook greets him warmly and gives him a bowl of cabbage dolma. A young clerk begins a conversation with the murderer; when he asks who the murderer is, the murderer introduces himself as Bihzad, the famous master from Herat. The murderer claims that painting and beauty are about conjuring in front of one’s eyes what one’s mind already knows. The clerk doesn’t realize who Bihzad is, so the murderer keeps telling him about the master, describing scenes and stories that he depicted. After a while, the murderer tires of the conversation and leaves the kitchen.
Following the conventions of murder mystery, the reader is encouraged to hunt for clues and develop a theory about the murderer’s identity alongside the characters. The murderer emphasizes this aspect of the narrative by speaking directly to the reader and tauntingly asking if they have discovered his identity. This passage confirms the sense that the murderer now has a completely fragmented and duplicitous sense of his own identity. By pretending to be Bihzad, the murderer not only commits the sin of deception but also engages in a rather blasphemous act of disrespect against one of the most important masters in the miniaturist tradition.
The murderer goes to the abandoned dervish lodge, gets out a mirror and attempts to draw a self-portrait. However, looking at his own face fills him with misery, and he begins to cry. He returns to the streets and reluctantly ends up at “the despicable coffeehouse.” The murderer feels paranoid that the patrons of the coffeehouse are laughing at him. He admits that at times he has taken part in the homoerotic culture that is the norm among his peers in Istanbul, but he ultimately feels isolated and miserable. Drunk from wine, he decides to tell two stories in order to “ease the loneliness in his soul.” In the first story, the murderer states that drawing horses from real life is not actually an invention of the Europeans, but was first done by the old master Jemalettin of Kazvin. Jemalettin believed that a miniaturist’s talents lay in his mind, not his hand, and when he lost his sight he hired a calligrapher’s apprentice and dictated how to draw the horses that appeared to him in his divine blindness. These notes were published as three volumes that have now been used to instruct countless miniaturists.
The murderer finds himself so despicable that he cannot bring himself to even look at a mirror, let alone draw a self-portrait. This is a somewhat fitting turn of events given the fact that self-portraits are a part of European visual culture which are not permitted within the Islamic tradition. Of course, the murderer is disturbed by his own image not only because his is the face of a man who has killed two people, but also because he does not truly identify as that man. He attempts to ease his loneliness by telling stories, however this does not seem like a viable solution as the stories do not resolve the problem of the murderer’s fractured sense of his own identity.
The murderer then begins the second story. In Herat and Shiraz, it was considered an honor for master miniaturists to go blind in old age, such that some who didn’t go blind would actually try to induce blindness and sometimes even violently blinded themselves. However, it soon became the case that the imitation of blindness was considered just as good as actual blindness. The truest miniaturists drew as if they were blind. When one master refused to refute the Koranic verse stating: “The blind and the seeing are not equal,” he was blinded and then killed. The murderer is about to tell a third story when the storyteller begins to tell his own tale, this time from the perspective of Satan. The murderer sketches a picture of Satan while others look on and laugh.
Throughout the book, the different characters draw into question the binary between authenticity and inauthenticity. In his second story, the murderer shows how blindness came to be valued less as an actual, physical state of being, and more as an attitude toward drawing. Indeed, this evokes the idea that the miniaturist tradition in some ways requires artists to work as if they are blind from the beginning; after all, true miniaturists are supposed to largely ignore the physical world and draw according to the imagined vision of Allah.