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An Evil Eye: A Novel (Investigator Yashim) Paperback – February 28, 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Edgar-winner Goodwin's masterful fourth mystery thriller set in Istanbul under the Ottoman Turks (after The Bellini Card) finds his series hero, the eunuch Yashim, attempting to navigate treacherous political shoals following the death of Sultan Mahmut II in 1840. International pressures heighten the uncertainty surrounding the empire's direction under Mahmut's youthful successor. In this tense climate, Yashim looks into the killing of an unknown man dumped in a Christian monastery's cistern. A flap of skin cut from the body bearing a death's-head brand, an item that someone tries to take from Yashim at gunpoint, may point to a Russian connection to the murder. While Goodwin excels at plotting, the book's main strength lies in the assured depiction of a nation restrained by a corrupt leadership far removed from the old traditions of transparency and justice. The details of how Yashim prepares meals may amuse Robert Parker fans. (Apr.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“When you read a historical mystery by Jason Goodwin, you take a magic-carpet ride to the most exotic place on earth.” ―Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
“Goodwin is an author of many strengths…[and his books] just keep getting better….The complicated plot that unfolds is deftly controlled throughout….Goodwin's prose is sharp and surprising.” ―The Washington Post
“Exotic…An elegant meditation on the Ottoman psyche. Goodwin is as concerned with capturing the sights, sounds, and recipes as he is with the murders.” ―Financial Times (London)
“Goodwin continues to create historical mysteries with an A-quality plot, excellent historical detail, and a strong sense of place….He is still at the top of his game.” ―Booklist
“A great addition to a superb series.” ―The Globe and Mail (London)
“In Yashim's investigations the stakes are high indeed….The bare outlines are enlivened by Goodwin's skillful use of color and detail, especially Yashim's recipes, which set the reader drooling. As a historian, Goodwin is scrupulous.” ―The Independent (London)
Top customer reviews
The story of this book seems to be evolving around women: the women in the new Sultan’s harem, the women in the harem of the last Sultan, the Pasha’s harem, and the Pasha’s daughter. I wish the author had spent more time develop the characters and the struggles of this special cloistered world in detail.
The western idea of “oriental women in the harem” is based on hints of the Ottoman practice enhanced by European fantasy. However, harem was pretty common in most old Asian cultures (maybe not so much communal bathing in Chinese harem). To manage so many people in close quarters, the harems must be well organized. Each harem contained many ranks, each with corresponding duties and privileges, from lowly newcomers to experienced survivors, from those who never saw the ruler to the favorites. Intrigues and jockeying for position and for advancement were inevitable. Empresses were rarely very important because they were always political alliance and rarely engaged the heart. The worst thing that could happen to these women was when the sultan fell in love with only one, especially if she was a jealous and demanding type, because if he decides to be faithful to his only love, he inevitably ignored all the others who ended up wasting their lives in hopelessness. With so many young and beautiful but lonely and restless women around, eunuchs were the only ones who could be trusted to work in the harem.
Everyone makes mistakes - I was shocked to read that the Greek grocery George referred to his newborn grandson as “Hercules”. Really? I doubt that any Greek would do so to their beloved “Heracles”.
With the exception of the last book 'The Bellini Card' the Yashim stories have always started with a leisurely introduction of mid-1800's Istanbul and perhaps a slice-of-life moment with Yashim buying a book or having a meal with his friend, the Polish Ambassador Palewski. Taking place the year before the events of 'The Bellini Card', 'An Evil Eye' starts off with a bang (or BOOM of cannon fire) with Yashim rushing to help clear the late Sultan's harem as the new Sultan's women arrive. He's then immediately thrown onto a murder investigation by the grand vizier involving a body found near a christian monastery and a flap of human skin with a strange marking. If that wasn't enough Yashim's investigations lead him on the trail of Fevzi Ahmet, the Kapudan pasha on the island of Chalki....and the person who trained Yashim to be a detective!
Obviously there's a lot going on in 'The Evil Eye', as Palewski says: "Yashim, you seem to have prevented a sectarian riot, identified a corpse and thrown suspicion on the Russians, all the while I was drinking my pear syrup. Incredible." Jason Goodwin's wry-humor and fast pacing manage to keep the plot engaging even as the story whimsically shifts around to different characters. Palewski and the lady Valide continue to be the series' best-written personalities (and both are given some great moments in the story) but it's the newer characters, particularly the women and eunuchs of the sultan's harem that provide the freshest and most fascinating perspectives.
In the first two books Yashim was fun and charming but kind of a blank-slate and his underdeveloped characterization made him come off as mysterious and fascinating as the Ottoman Empire itself. In 'The Bellini Card' and especially this new book 'An Evil Eye' we're not only seeing a more daring and cynical Yashim, we actually get some brief insights into his past and interactions with his former instructor. I was a bit put off by this change at first, but I've grown to like this more direct Yashim and I even liked how his being a eunuch starts to weigh on him a bit. His brief, mentor-like connection with the runaway Kadri was a bit obvious but an enjoyable contrast to Yashim's other relationships.
'An Evil Eye' may be different in tone than the previous Yashim books and the resolution is a bit untidy (or too tidy depending how you look at it). However with a more fleshed-out Yashim, a refreshing look at the harems of the Ottoman Empire and the usual colorful characters and delicious scenes of cooking (I was craving mackerel long after I finished the book!) make this my favorite Yashim adventure to date! A great selection for historical/mystery fans as well as people interested in 1800's Istanbul.
This time around he weaves in rich details of harem life--to which, of course, Yashim has access---into the intrigues surrounding the defection of the Ottoman Empire's fleet commander to the Egyptians, who along with the Russians are threatening to further weaken the political sway of the Ottomans.
It may be that the many strands in the story do not quite come together in a perfect braid, but each strand holds enough interest to keep you turning pages. There are also hints of Yashim's past that pique one's interest and promises even more fascinating glimpses into the empire's history.
By the way, it helps to have read Goodwin's "Lord of the Horizons" to fully enjoy the stories.