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The Janissary Tree, by Jason Goodwin.

February 6, 2017

The Janissary Tree, by Jason Goodwin.

4 stars

A mystery set in Istanbul in the 1830, full of drama, suspense, and a host of fascinating characters.

Jason Goodwin, born in England in 1964, studied the Ottoman Empire at Cambridge and went on write travelogues of Europe and Asia and a history of the Ottomans.  Then he turned his deep knowledge about the subject into a series of historical mysteries featuring Yashim, a eunuch investigator living in Istanbul in the 1830s and 1840s.  The first novel in the series, The Janissary Tree, won the Edgar Award.  Four additional novels have extended Yashim’s adventures.

Goodwin tells a complicated tale of Yashim searching simultaneously for the killers of several victims.  A young woman in the sultan’s harem was murdered and jewels belonging to the sultan’s mother were stolen.  In addition four young officers in the sultan’s new, reorganized army have undergone particularly gruesome deaths that may be related to imperial polices.  In seeking to solve these crimes, Yashim explores all over the city; in the palace, mosques, the Russian embassy, and the city’s narrow poverty-filled alleys. Friends and enemies of his help and hinder him along the way.  As he searches for those responsible for the murders, Yashim suspects that imperial and international forces are at work.  The Janissaries were once a strong force. Yashim must discover what they intend to do and stop them.

I enjoyed The Janissary Tree and hope to read more of this series, I found Goodwin’s descriptions of his varied characters both probing and distinctive.  Yet I struggled at times with the unfamiliar setting and political situation.  Like Yashim, I needed a good map—and perhaps a glossary or cast of characters.  While the mysteries are key to the plot, the book is much more about the time and place.  I recommend it to readers who like mysteries that bridge cultures.

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