on 1 August 2007
This is the second in the series of novels featuring the eunuch Yashmin - the first being the equally good introduction "The Jannissary Tree". Set in the mid 1800's in Turkey at the height of the Ottaman Empire this is a detective novel with a slight quirky nature. Anyone who likes Boris Akunin will, I am sure, take just as kindly to this hero as they have done to Erast Fandorin or Sister Pelugia. Jason Goodwin carefully weaves colourful portraits of Istanbul, life within a Sultans palace, political intrigue and historical drama into the storyline (as well as some good cooking tips!) and, as with all good detective novels, the ending has a surprise or two in store. A very enjoyable book and one I thoroughly recommend.
'The Snake Stone' is the second novel featuring Yashim the Eunuch, one of recent crime fiction's more interesting creations. Set in Istanbul against a backdrop of a crumbling Ottoman empire, Goodwin's novels are both tightly plotted and full of sumptuous description.
Yashim finds himself, an anachronism in a rapidly modernising city. With the Sultan on his deathbed, he is unsure of his continuing role and as a eunuch, is uncomfortable with his asexual persona. This makes Yashim both engaging and vulnerable, without the author having to resort to alcohol abuse and divorce; a welcome respite from two of crime fiction's most overused clichés.
Goodwin's writing is descriptive yet easy to read, his portrayal of Istanbul is rich and varied; you can almost smell the city. You can certainly taste Yashim's wonderful culinary concoctions; food and taste are at the heart of any culture, which is why many a foreign detective is a whizz in the kitchen; Yashim's tasty meals add authenticity to the author's excellent depiction of the city.
Some other reviews complain about historical inaccuracies and I confess to not having a enough knowledge to support or refute these claims. I would however, suggest that it probably doesn't matter, this is a work of fiction after all. Goodwin's novels ooze authenticity and his characters are well rounded and entertaining, in particular the brandy-loving Polish ambassador.
The plot of 'The Snake Stone', is exciting and believable, although I did feel that everything fell into place a little too conveniently. There is also a nice little sting in the final paragraphs, which I certainly didn't see coming. I have thoroughly enjoyed the two Yashim novels that I have read so far; they were both high quality crime-writing with an exotic garnish; I look forward to the next instalment.
Jason Goodwin's second book "The Snake Stone" sees the return of the Turkish, crime-solving eunuch Yashim Togalu. I'm pleased to report that Goodwin's second book was as fun to read as his first, The Janissary Tree: A Novel".
As befits a mystery set in Istanbul the plot of "The Snake Stone" is moderately Byzantine but not so complex that the reader gets lost. Yashim is approached by a French archeologist (of the plundering sort) who tells Yashim a story about some priceless antiquities. Shortly thereafter the man is found dead and since Yashim is the last man to see him alive he finds himself faced with the prospect of being a suspect in the murder. Yashim has no choice but to try to unravel the mystery.
Two aspects of the book deserve special praise. As noted, the plot revolves around the possible discovery of priceless antiquities and this is a perfect device for a book set in a city such as Istanbul one of the world's historic cross-roads. The plot gives Goodwin a great opportunity to `explore' Istanbul's rich and diverse history both archeologically and socially. Goodwin studied Byzantine history at Cambridge and has written books on the history of the Ottoman Empire (Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire and his writing evidences that knowledge. Goodwin puts his knowledge to good use as he paints a very readable picture of Istanbul that captures (for me at least) the sights, sounds, and smells of Istanbul's streets and alleys while also conveying a sense of the political and social backdrop that drove the characters in the book. Anytime a writer gives you the sense that you can almost get a visceral feel for the sights and sounds of a city that writer has done a good job.
Second, Goodwin has done an excellent job in developing the character of Yashim. Yashim is now, in the second book, a fully formed and very endearing character. The minor recurring characters are equally engaging. Last, Yashim isn't the first detective to be a gourmet cook but I have to say the descriptions of Yashim's recipes were very enticing.
In my review of "The Janissary Tree" I mentioned that Goodwin's Yashim reminded me of Boris Akunin's Erast Fandorin novels (late 19th-century Russia such as The Winter Queen: A Novel (Erast Fandorin Mysteries)) and Arturo Perez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste stories such as Captain Alatriste (17th-century Spain). They all take the standard detective or mystery story and transport the reader to a different time and place. "The Snake Stone" confirms my original impression that Goodwin's books belong in that good company. "The Snake Stone" was an excellent story and anyone who likes a good detective story with a bit of an exotic twist should enjoy it.
on 20 January 2008
Our favourite eunuch makes his next outing in declining Istanbul. This time it's a secret Hellanistic cult that needs thwarting. It's more of the same as the last book, intriguing mystery, another beautiful woman that causes emotional turmoil, various culinary experiences and another slightly fudged ending and all is well at the end. Of course the storyline is hardly paramount in the book, one reads this for the journey through Ottoman Istanbul, the experience the smells and sights and to learn its history. The atmosphere and background is beautifully described, one can really get the sense of the authors historical expertise coming in to play. The plot fades from memory almost instantly on completion, but the sense of old Istanbul lingers in the memory long after the books completion.
on 15 April 2011
As a Turk who has lived in Istanbul for many years, I am perhaps one of the harder readers to please for a foreign author writing about Ottoman Istanbul, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Snake Stone. This is a beautifully written novel full of incredible historical detail, which paints a city of a hundred nationalities existing side by side in a mesmerizing kaleidoscope. My only criticism would be that it tries to be Da Vinci Code towards the end and this subtracts from the charm of The Snake Stone.
The Snake Stone is similar to its predecessor, The Janissary Tree, in many ways but has a better story and is more readable. However, the annoying misspellings and creative use of the Turkish language is still there: Hippodrome is "Atmeydan" on pg 23 but then becomes "Atmeidan" on pg 25, although the correct spelling would be "At meydani". "Aya Sofya" (Turkish spelling) is used a few times but then turns into "Aya Sofia" which must be the editor's personal understanding of the correct English spelling of "Hagia Sophia". One of Istanbul's districts is called "Beyazit", not "Bayezit". "Water" is "su" in Turkish and not "sou", so "water inspector" is "su naziri" and not "sou naziry", while "the inspector" would be "the nazir" and not "the naziry" as that last letter (which should have been 'i') means "of" as in "inspector of water". Even the French phrases could use editing: "Ils me connaissent", not "Ils me connaient" like on pg 46.
It seems to me that Jason Goodwin needs a new editor or at least a friendly reader to take a look at the final copy of his books before publishing. I humbly offer my services :-)
on 14 August 2014
Best to start with the series in the right order. The knowledge of years of study is passed on as a pleasant background very appropriate for the actual action of the story. Yashim becomes very quickly a real person for the reader, and his involvement in so much of Istanbul life blends well with his search for truth, and the solution to a difficult task.
on 22 April 2014
For anyone who loves Istanbul, this book is a must. It is a cracking mystery story, with fascinating characters, especially Yashim the eunuch, who is an irresistible and unforgettable individual - but for me it is above all a portrait of a city, and although it is set in the nineteenth century, there is so much there that is still familiar to visitors to Istanbul today. A brilliant evocation of the place, its history and its varied communities, an atmosphere so beautifully built up through so many details, without holding up the plot which rattles along. If you know Istanbul, read this book. if you are planning to visit Istanbul, read this book. And if you are merely interested in Istanbul, read this book and you will have a real feel for this magical and mysterious place.
on 5 June 2009
I picked up this novel because I love historical fiction and liked the idea of reading about Istanbul in the early nineteenth century.
Unfortunately, Jason Goodwin seems to think that the point in a mystery is to baffle the reader. Towards the end of the book, I had no idea what was going on - for such a short book there were too many side-steps and too much extraneous material.
The characters are pretty flat and Goodwin goes for quantity rather than quality. We follow Yashim around Istanbul but don't really engage with the location. There are a lot of descriptions but these are usually done as if the reader is already familiar with 1830s Istanbul and Turkish culture.
In all in all, this book was becoming a chore to read and I skimmed the last twenty pages, just trying to work out "who did it".
First Sentence: The voice was low and rough and it came from behind as dusk fell.
I love Goodwin's strong sense of place. His descriptions draw mental pictures and engage you senses. The book is a fascinating look at Istanbul of this period and a culture so different from our own, but you also see our culture viewed through their eyes. We are also seeing it at a time of significant transition from being and primarily Muslim city, to one more influenced by Western Culture. Yet his descriptions are not only of this past, but a past beyond the story.
The literary references were wonderful; I even learned things about Byron I hadn't known. The sub-story of the Sultan, who is dying, and the Sultan's mother, was fascinating. Yashim is a wonderful character; intelligent and multifaceted. He's also a man who doesn't really fit anywhere, yet from that, allows him to go places others cannot. I'm always delighted by Stanislaw Palewski, the ambassador without a country and by the flashes of quite delightful, yet subtle humor, Goodwin injects into his dialogue.
I did find the story a bit confusing, at times, yet there was some excellent suspense and a great twist at the end.
THE SNAKE STONE (Hist/Mystery-Yashim-Instanbul-1830s) - G+
Sarah Chrichton Books, 2007
on 29 August 2007
The finest English literature for years, written at the fastest pace laced with historical interest, subtle characterisation, inter-cultural understanding and mouthwatering cooking recipes. In a thrilling literary adventure, themes in Turkish history and culture come alive with exciting sub-plots and historical mysteries bringing facts and fiction from the past alive for us all to understand. Another ripping yarn set in Istanbul featuring Yashim - the Eunuch, the Polish Ambassador - a state that had long since ceased to exist but still recognised by the Ottoman Court, and the Sultan's Mother - senior member of the Harem a French born lady. As the Sultan lies dying and his Empire begins to collapse an explosive conspiracy by Greek fantatics and treacherous grave robbers races to a subtle and dashing crescendo.