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The Janissary Tree    by Jason Goodwin order for
Janissary Tree
by Jason Goodwin
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Mystery readers meet all kinds of detectives, young and old, from all over the world, and operating in different historical eras. Jason Goodwin introduces an unusual one in The Janissary Tree. It's set in 1836 Turkey, where Sultan Mahmut II rules the Ottoman Empire, heavily influenced by his lovely and wily mother Aimée. Investigator Yashim has 'innate charm, a gift for languages' and lacks balls - he's a eunuch, frequently consulted by those at the Topkapi Palace to solve a variety of puzzles.

Yashim juggles two convoluted murder investigations in The Janissary Tree. First, the lovely young woman selected to share the Sultan's bed is strangled, and the queen mother's Napoleon jewels (sent to her by the Emperor himself) are stolen. Next, Yashim's consulted by the seraskier who leads the Sultan's modern army, the New Guard, which replaced the legendary Janissary Corps. The latter degenerated from being the Empire's crack troops into an 'armed mafia' and were massacred by the New Guard ten years before this story opens. Now, elite officers of the new army have gone missing. One by one, their corpses are displayed prominently in the city, the first faceless in an iron cauldron. Yashim undertakes a race against time to find the perpetrators before their actions disrupt an important review by the Sultan of his new army ten days ahead.

In between steaming Turkish baths (one of which gets much too hot for comfort) and preparing gourmet feasts for himself and his good friend Stanislaw Palewski (the Polish imperial ambassador to the Sublime Porte, now without a country) Yashim tracks down clues, which include a Sufi poem. Some lead to survivors of the Janissary executions, who are employed all over the city. Others take him to the Russian Embassy, where he finds the Ambassador's wife, the beautiful and bored Princess Eugenia, to be attractive and congenial. But as Yashim seeks answers, an assassin follows him, leading to a surprising, wheels within wheels conclusion. If you enjoy good, well-researched historical mysteries, pick up The Janissary Tree and watch for the next in this excellent series, The Snake Stone.

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