Jason Goodwin






Faber & Faber/Allen & Unwin, Sep 2006
Reviewed by Sally Roddom

Just lately there seems to have been a plethora of mysteries set in the Middle East at the time of the Ottoman Empire. THE JANISSARY TREE is the latest contribution. THE JANISSARY TREE places us in Istanbul in 1836, where four officers from the freshly modernized ‘New Guard’ go missing. One turns up dead, crammed in a cooking pot with his face sliced off. In addition, a young harem favourite is strangled, and jewels belonging to the Sultan's mother are stolen. Enter Yashim, a court eunuch. You will not find Yashim fanning the sultan or guarding his harem. Yashim serves the Sultan as an investigator and he is given 10 days to solve the murder, as a grand public unveiling of the New Guard is due, and the Sultan does not want egg on his face. Yashim suspects the Janissaries. For 400 years, the Janissaries were the empire's elite soldiers, but they grew too powerful, so the Sultan attempted to have them massacred and created the New Guard in their place. Thousands of Janissaries escaped the massacre and revolution is brewing.

THE JANISSARY TREE is the start of a planned series centring on Yashim as the main character. Author Jason Goodwin has created several characters that deserve to live in subsequent books, because they feel real and alive. There is Yashim, the main character, who is passionate about literature, cooking and how the human mind works. Then there is Preen, an over-the-top transvestite dancer, and the Polish Ambassador Palieski, the vodka-downing representative of a land that no longer exists – swallowed up by Russia. The plot is believable, and Goodwin’s style of using short chapters keeps the story moving along and interesting. The resolution is well thought out, and is in context to the period; as a result it is very easy to become engrossed in the story. Goodwin studied Byzantine history at Cambridge and has written several non-fiction books on the history of the Ottoman Empire. He uses his knowledge of the period to convey to the reader a sense of how life in the city must have been in the 1830’s. Historical fact is cleverly intertwined with fiction to produce a very unique story. I am looking forward to more in the series.

Nov 2006 Review originally published on Murder & Mayhem


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