Wednesday 6 June 2007

A Historical Mystery with a unique setting

Finished June 6
The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin
This mystery is set in 1830s Istanbul, with a eunuch as the detective. Yashim Togalu is a trusted friend of the sultan's mother, the valide. He has been summoned by the seraskier, the commander of the sultan's troops to investigate the disappearance of four young officers. He is also summoned by the valide to investigate the murder of a girl in the harem and the disappearance of the valide's Napoleonic jewels. He works at investigating both, and starts focussing on the Janissaries when the officers bodies start appearing with clues relating to Janissary methods.
Ten years before this the sultan had routed the Janissaries, who policed not only the city but also were spread around the empire. While many were killed, many more went into other professions and Yashim begins to wonder if they have regrouped and are planning a revolution.
Yashim receives assistance from several of his friends including the ambassador of Poland and Preen, a dancer transvestite. He also gets help from the Russian ambassador's wife, an archivist, and a new friend from his neighbourhood.
I found the history of Istanbul that was included here very interesting, without feeling that it was forced in. The characters were interesting and Yashim's own feelings and thoughts brought to life very well. The details that were included were pertinent to the plot and yet interesting in their own right as well. I will definitely be hoping for a second book featuring Yashim.

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