Customer Review

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Turkish impotentate returns!, 15 Dec 2007
This review is from: The Snake Stone (A 'Yashim the Eunuch' Mystery) (Hardcover)
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.
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