"Yashim did not challenge the men who met him; or the women. With his kind face, gray eyes, dark curls barely touched, at forty, by the passage of the years, Yashim was a listener; a quiet questioner; and not entirely a man. Yashim was a eunuch."
The city of Istanbul is nestled under a cloud of apprehension in 1839. The Sultan Malmud II is dying and with any impending change of power the people are uncertain about how their lives will be affected by the will of the new Sultan. Sultan Mahumud II
Yashim has not been summoned to the palace in quite a while. With time on his hands his skills at investigation can be turned to private matters. He is promptly hired and as promptly fired to investigate a situation involving an acquaintance of his, a pseudo archaeologist named Maximilien Lefevre. When Lefevre's body is found on the steps of the French Embassy, ripped to shreds by dogs, the prime suspect is Yashim. "Nobody ever could say how, or even why, the dogs had come to Istanbul. Some people supposed that they had been there always, even in the time of the Greeks; others, that they invaded the city at the time of the Conquest, dropping down from the Balkans to prowl through the blasted streets and the ruins in the fields, where they formed into packs and carved out territories for themselves that still held good to the present day. But nobody really knew."
Once in a while these dogs are rounded up (all the usual suspects) and hauled out to the country side or dumped on islands and yet..."But either they all came back or they simply grew again, like the lizard's tail or moss in the masonry, the same yellow, rangy, ribs-sticking-out mangy curs, with fleabites and battle scars and their own distinct parishes. And nobody minded them, either. Like puddles after rain, or shadow, or the blazing sun at noon, they were simply there; and they scavenged the city streets and kept them clean."
Goodwin writes in such a way that you really feel like you are there stepping over dogs, sliding your hands along Roman stonework, or stopping for a quick coffee to ponder recently acquired clues. 1830s coffeehouse
Yashim is an avid book collector. He has a particular fondness for French writers. He cooks and takes his food preparations very seriously. The description of the ingredients made my mouth water. A young boy lurks beneath his window available to dash off to the markets at a moments notice for a missing ingredient. (How handy would that be?)
Oh wait, yes there is an ongoing investigation.
Yashim's books are riffled and the meager contents of his home are tossed (This was the lowest moment of the story for me. It takes a true blackguard to toss books about.). He is chased by Maltese sailors. He is nearly seduced by the beautiful wife of Lefevre. He is stabbed and nearly drowned as he chases the lovely Amelie, who is in search of Byzantium treasure, through the claustrophobic cisterns beneath the Aya Sofia.
With encouragement from his friend, the Polish ambassador Stanislaw Palewski, and his confidant and fellow book lover the valide, mother of the Sultan, he continues to chase down the alleyways after the shadows that are obscuring the truth.
In the first bookThe Janissary TreeI learned that a eunuch can make love, actually quite passionately. In The Snake StoneI learned that if I ever have to dispose of a body in Istanbul I need to open up the stomach cavity, leave the body in a dark alley, and let the dogs of Istanbul do their worst. With any luck the body will be unrecognizable by morning. If you have any interest in Turkey you have to read this series. If you don't have any interest in Turkey you will after reading Jason Goodwin's books. Highly recommended!!