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Old 07-09-2008, 01:19 PM   #1
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Default Yashim the eunuch (mysteries)

I am a sucker for a well-written mystery. If it also focuses on food or history in a graceful way, so much the better. Here are a couple by Jason Goodwin, set in Istanbul near the end of the Ottoman Empire. The detective is the eunuch Yashim, and one of his clients is the aging sultan. The city is a central character in the book — with all its human diversity and messy history.

The Janissary Tree and The Snake Stone, the first set in 1836, the second a few years later. Both mysteries take Yashim around old Istanbul, into the harem (eunuchs being the only sort of outside male allowed that privilege), even into the water system. People die mysteriously, there are a few red herrings, and all against the background of an amazing city.

The eunuch has some odd friends, including the sultan’s mother and the Polish ambassador (who was abandoned when Poland fell), who figure in the solution of the crimes. Yashim cooks for the ambassador, and we can duplicate his meals, which are classical dishes of that part of the world. (If you don’t want to puzzle out the quantities and technique from the novels, you can visit the author’s web site and read his recipes there. (Warning: a Flash site, set horizontally and inflexibly.)

(I am looking forward to the third book in the series, The Bellini Card, due out this summer in the U.K., later in the U.S., is set in Venice where Yashim is working for a new young sultan.)

Definitely recommended. I am anxiously awaiting book three.

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