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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 13 June 2006
Isaiah 56:3

Investigator Yashim, the hero of Jason Goodwin's first novel, "The Janissary Tree" may be a Turkish eunuch but it is not at all likely that anyone reading this book will think of him as a "dry tree". In fact, if Yashim's steamy encounter with the beautiful but lonely wife of the Russian ambassador to Turkey halfway through the book is any indication, this is one heck of a unique eunuch.

I would love to have been present when Goodwin pitched the idea of a novel (and the first in a proposed series) about a crime-solving eunuch in Istanbul to his agent or publisher. Fortunately, someone had the good sense to green light this project as Goodwin has crafted a highly-entertaining book.

The Janissary Tree is set in Istanbul in 1836. Ten years earlier the Janissaries, the Sultan's version of the Roman Empire's Praetorian Guards, had been crushed by the "New Guard", the Sultan's standing army. Like the Praetorian Guards the Janissaries had evolved from a protective legion to one that terrorized the populace and the Sultan. Now, ten years later, the mysterious disappearance of four members of the New Guard and the murder of one of the Sultan's harem heralds the possible return of the Janissaries. The return of the Janissaries threatens to destroy the Sultanate and the relative calm of Istanbul. Enter Investigator Yashim. He is given ten days to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Yashim is soon engulfed in murder and intrigue. Bodies begin to appear in bizarre places as Yashim and his friends (including a somewhat decadent Polish Ambassador who has no country to represent and a transsexual dancer) try to get to the bottom of this alleged revolt.

Goodwin is very good at keeping the plot boiling (in more ways than one). Goodwin, who studied Byzantine history at Cambridge and who has written books on the history of the Ottoman Empire, has ample knowledge of the time and the place and has put this knowledge to good use. Although I haven't been to Istanbul in almost thirty years, Goodwin seems to convey a real sense of how the city must have looked, felt, and even smelled more than 180 years or so ago.

The Janissary Tree reminded me of Boris Akunin's Erast Fandorin novels (late 19th-century Russia) and Arturo Perez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste stories (17th-century Spain). They all take the standard detective or mystery story and transport the reader to a different time and place. As with both Akunin and Perez-Reverte's novels, Jason Goodwin's "The Janissary Tree" is an entertaining and diverting read.

L. Fleisig
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on 22 December 2012
This book's structure suits its magnificent, 1836 Istanbul, substance: "an endless circuit, snake swallowing snake. Frustration and excitement and pleasure in equal measure - and without issue." (p. 304). Every chapter closes with an unresolved frustration, which is picked up and dealt with only a few pages later, thanks to short chapters, yielding the excitement of anticipation and the pleasure of fulfilment as you progress through a story which uses a plot full of mirth to present the character of a unique city in the 1830s. And the characterisation is what matters most (to me), since it is history brought alive. Human insight is an added extra: "Bitterness is not a better kind of grief, Zucci. Grief has its place, but bitterness invades a wound like rot. Slowly, bit by bit, it shuts you down. And in the end, even though you are alive, you are really dead." (p.144)
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on 16 May 2017
Fun mystery, but author clearly couldn't be bothered doing much research and it's filled with laughable errors.
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on 10 April 2017
It took a while to get into, but once in, I loved it. The book was well written, cleverly conceived and well researched - it kept me guessing. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable read.
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on 10 September 2017
intriguing detail and good plot
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on 3 April 2017
Great fun and also an extremely interesting potted history of The Ottoman Empire.
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on 21 July 2017
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on 17 September 2017
Draws you in, carries you along. Written by someone who knows a thing or to about the Ottoman period. My favourite historical fiction series, recommend them all.
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VINE VOICEon 19 July 2008
Yashim the Eunuch is called in the help investigate the murder of a young concubine in the Sultan's harem and also the assumed abduction of four young cadets from the New Guard (the Ottoman Armed Forces.) The book starts well enough but it was disconcerting that the author appeared to assume that the reader would come to the novel with prior knowledge. I thought this book would be an interesting murder-mystery and that I would learn something about a period of history I know nothing about. Instead, I became lost in the many references to historical events; the differing roles of the characters; and how the general hierarchy had significance.

The characterisation is also quite poor. The reason why Yashim is approached to investigate is never explained satisfactorily and then one-dimensional characters are introduced and never referred to again. The plot isn't too bad, but between the more interesting chapters there are a number of sections that drag.

I am willing to admit that I might not have enjoyed this book as much as I could have because of my lack of knowledge; but this would have easily been remedied by the inclusion of an author's note or short glossary. After all the hype and the awards, this was a real disappointment.
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on 6 July 2014
Entertaining yarn about Yashim, a rather sexy eunuch in the Ottoman Empire of the early 19th century. He is a kind of spy and undercover operator, and investigates some rather nasty murders. Excellent action sequences, one set in a stinking tannery, and lots of interesting history. The most startling of which was the relationship between cousins Aimée du Buc de Rivéry and Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie. Both were upper class Creole girls sent from Martinique to France to make 'good' marriages. Marie Josephe made it, and married Alexandre de Beauharnais, who was beheaded in the Revolution, and then met and married Napoleon 1. Through the children of her first marriage, many of the royal lines of Europe are descended from her. Aimee did not. She was captured by pirates and enslaved. But her wit, intelligence and guts combined to send her to the very top of what was possible for a woman and she was the power behind the throne as the Valide Sultan (queen mother) in Istanbul. The Empress and the Sultana corresponded for years apparently. Sadly this is a myth, but a very appealing one.
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