The Janissary Tree (Yashim the Eunuch Series #1)

( 26 )


Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel

It is 1836. Europe is modernizing and the Ottoman Empire must follow suit. But just before the sultan announces sweeping changes, a wave of murders threatens the fragile balance of power in his court. Who is behind them? Only one intelligence agent can be trusted to find out: Yashim, a man both brilliant and near-invisible in this world, an investigator who can walk with ease in the great halls of the empire, in its streets, and even ...

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The Janissary Tree (Yashim the Eunuch Series #1)

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Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel

It is 1836. Europe is modernizing and the Ottoman Empire must follow suit. But just before the sultan announces sweeping changes, a wave of murders threatens the fragile balance of power in his court. Who is behind them? Only one intelligence agent can be trusted to find out: Yashim, a man both brilliant and near-invisible in this world, an investigator who can walk with ease in the great halls of the empire, in its streets, and even within its harems—because, of course, Yashim is a eunuch. His investigation points to the Janissaries, who, for four hundred years were the empire's elite soldiers. Crushed by the sultan, could they now be staging a brutal comeback? And can they be stopped without throwing Istanbul into political chaos?

This first book in the Investigator Yashim series is a richly entertaining tale, full of exotic history and intrigue.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
From acclaimed historian Jason Goodwin (Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire, On Foot to the Golden Horn: A Walk to Istanbul, et al.), comes this first work of fiction -- a detective novel of sorts set in 1836 Istanbul. Yashim Togalu, an imperial investigator for Sultan Mahmut II, is tasked with solving a series of gruesome murders involving officers of the sultan's New Guard. Yashim's particular condition -- he's a eunuch -- makes him the perfect undercover agent. He can gain access to areas (including the sultan's harem) off limits to other men; and because he is ignored and overlooked by the majority of society, he hears and sees things most imperial agents wouldn't be privy to.

The plot revolves around the Janissaries, the legendary and infamous Ottoman military force that was abolished (i.e., massacred) by Mahmut II in 1826. When Yashim uncovers a conspiracy to revive the Janissaries, he must expose the scheme's mastermind before he is killed -- and an empire is toppled….

Comparable to other historical mysteries like Caleb Carr's The Alienist, Matthew Pearl's The Poe Shadow, and Boris Akunin's The Death of Achilles, Goodwin's fictional debut is not only a first-rate historical whodunit, it's also a brilliantly complex re-creation of the melting pot of cultures that made up the declining Ottoman Empire of the mid-19th century. Goodwin meticulously describes the Istanbul of 1836, right down to the weave of clothing and ingredients in the food! Fans of historical fiction should devour this unusual mystery -- and look forward to the return of Yashim Togalu. According to the author, The Janissary Tree is just the first installment in a new mystery saga featuring the intrepid eunuch investigator. Paul Goat Allen

Publishers Weekly
Goodwin, the author of a well-received history of the Ottoman Empire, Lords of the Horizons (1999), makes a welcome shift to fiction with this impressive first of a new mystery series set in the empire's declining decades. In 1836, though the corrupt elite troops known as the Janissaries were crushed 10 years earlier, there are ominous signs that their influence still persists in the twisted alleys and secret places of Istanbul. A series of crimes, including the barbaric murders of several soldiers and the theft of some precious jewels, leads eunuch Yashim Togalu to delve into the past in an effort to separate legend from truth. With special access to all areas of the sultan's royal court, Yashim uses his network of contacts to try to solve the crimes. The author, no surprise, does an excellent job of evoking his chosen locale. While his sleuth's character may be less developed than some readers might wish, no doubt Yashim will emerge as a more rounded figure in future entries of what one hopes will be a long-running series. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A tough new investigator is on the scene, and he happens to be a eunuch. Yashim Togula serves the sultan, who's troubled by a series of murders rocking the Ottoman Empire in the 1830s. Are the Janissaries, elite soldiers-turned-outcast troublemakers, about to return in force? Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Goodwin, an acclaimed travel writer and popular historian, now takes on a mystery, with mixed results. Goodwin's history of the Ottoman Empire (Lords of the Horizons, 1999) undoubtedly served him well in this first of a planned series of adventures featuring Inspector Yashim Togalu, a eunuch serving the sultan. The Istanbul of 1836 is an exciting blend of old-world tradition and modern innovation, but there are those who would raise a revolution to stop the clock of progress. The general of the New Guard (a modern, French-trained army) asks Yashim to discreetly uncover the whereabouts of four missing soldiers before the Sultan declares an edict of modern political reforms. Yashim has ten days, but the answers, and the soldiers' bodies, begin to pile up quickly. Soon, Yashim discovers a plot by the Janissaries, believed to be irretrievably disbanded, to stage a coup. For hundreds of years, the religiously mystic Janissaries worked as the Empire's protectorate, but in the end became corrupt and dangerous, and not only to the sultan but to the citizens of their own city, as they terrorized with fire. Yashim pieces together the clues with the help of his confidant, the Polish ambassador Palieski, and of his longtime friend Preen, a transvestite dancer. Also requiring Yashim's attention is a private matter at the palace-a girl from the sultan's harem has been killed, and priceless jewels are missing. Goodwin has the most tantalizing material to work with-the secret lives of harem girls, the sorrow of eunuchs, sufic mysticism, the bustling metropolis of 19th-century Istanbul-but somehow, what should have been conveyed vividly about this melange of exotica is instead a bit humdrum. Afterattempts on his life, and an affair with the Russian ambassador's wife, Yashim uncovers the conspiracy and saves the city. Goodwin's mystery is subject to the charisma of the detective-whether he is quirky or clever or tough enough-but our Yashim is more enigma than is good for the plot. Middling.
From the Publisher
"A work of dazzling beauty…The rare coming together of historical scholarship and curiosity about distant places with luminous writing." ---The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312426132
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 5/15/2007
  • Series: Yashim the Eunuch Series, #1
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 291,713
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Hoye has won more than a dozen AudioFile Earphones Awards and two prestigious APA Audie Awards, including one for Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki. He has recorded many other notable titles, such as Every Second Counts by Lance Armstrong and The Google Story by David A. Vise and Mark Malseed.
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Read an Excerpt

The Janissary Tree

A Novel
By Goodwin, Jason

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2006 Goodwin, Jason
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0374178607

Excerpted from The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin. Copyright © 2006 by Jason Goodwin. Published in May 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.


Yashim flicked at a speck of dust on his cuff.

"One other thing, Marquise," he murmured.

She gazed at him levelly.

"The papers."

The Marquise de Merteuil gave a little laugh.

"Flûte! Monsieur Yashim, depravity is not a word we recognize in the Académie." Her fan played; from behind it she almost hissed, "It is a condition of mind."

Yashim was already beginning to sense that this dream was falling apart.

The marquise had fished out a paper from her décolletage and was tapping it on the table like a little hammer. He took a closer look. It was a little hammer.

Tap tap tap.

He opened his eyes and stared around. The Château de Merteuil dissolved in the candlelight. Shadows leered from under the book-lined shelves, and from the corners of the room--a room and a half, you might say, where Yashim lived alone in a tenement in Istanbul. The leather-bound edition of Les Liaisons Dangereuses had slipped onto his lap.

Tap taptap.

"Evet, evet," he grumbled. "I'm coming." He slipped a cloak around his shoulders and his feet into a pair of yellow slippers, and shuffled to the door. "Who is it?"

"Page boy."

Hardly a boy, Yashim considered, as he let the spindly old man into the darkened room. The single candle guttered in the sudden draft. It threw their shadows around the walls, boxing with one another before the page's shadow stabbed Yashim's with a flickering dagger. Yashim took the paper scroll and glanced at the seal. Yellow wax.

He rubbed his finger and thumb across his eyes. Just hours ago he'd been scanning a dark horizon, peering through the drizzle for lights and the sight of land. The lurching candlelight took his mind back to another lamp that had swayed in a cabin far out at sea, riding the winter storms. The captain was a barrel-chested Greek with one white eye and the air of a pirate, and the Black Sea was treacherous at this time of year. But he'd been lucky to find a ship at all. Even at the worst moments of the voyage, when the wind screamed in the rigging, waves pounded on the foredeck, and Yashim tossed and vomited in his narrow bunk, he had told himself that anything was better than seeing out the winter in that shattered palace in the Crimea, surrounded by the ghosts of fearless riders, eaten away by the cold and the gloom. He had needed to come home.

With a flick of his thumb he broke the seal.

With the scent of the sea in his nostrils and the floor still moving beneath his feet, he tried to concentrate on the ornate script.

He sighed and laid the paper aside. There was a lamp screwed to the wall and he lit it with the candle. The blue flames trickled slowly round the charred cloth. Yashim replaced the glass and trimmed the wick until the fitful light turned yellow and firm. Gradually the lamplight filled the room.

He picked up the scroll the page had given him and smoothed it out.

Greetings, et cetera. At the bottom he read the signature of the seraskier, city commander of the New Guard, the imperial Ottoman army. Felicitations, et cetera. He scanned upward. From practice he could fillet a letter like this in seconds. There it was, wedged into the politesse: an immediate summons.


The old man stood to attention. "I have orders to return with you to barracks immediately." He glanced uncertainly at Yashim's cloak. Yashim smiled, picked up a length of cloth, and wound it around his head. "I'm dressed," he said. "Let us go."

Yashim knew that it hardly mattered what he wore. He was a tall, well-built man in his late thirties, with a thick mop of black curls, a few white hairs, no beard, but a curly black mustache. He had the high cheekbones of the Turks, and the slanting gray eyes of a people who had lived on the great Eurasian steppe for thousands of years. In European trousers, perhaps, he would be noticeable, but in a brown cloak--no. Nobody noticed him very much. That was his special talent, if it was a talent at all. More likely, as the marquise had been saying, it was a condition of mind. A condition of the body.

Yashim had many things--innate charm, a gift for languages, and the ability to open those gray eyes suddenly wide. Both men and women had found themselves strangely hypnotized by his voice, before they had even noticed who was speaking. But he lacked balls.

Not in the vulgar sense: Yashim was reasonably brave.

But he was that creature rare even in nineteenth-century Istanbul.

Yashim was a eunuch.


Excerpted from The Janissary Tree by Goodwin, Jason Copyright © 2006 by Goodwin, Jason. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

About this Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about The Janissary Tree are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach The Janissary Tree.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 26 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2008


    Very slow story line. It was interesting to learn about this countries culture, history, etc., but very boring. There was a lot they could have done with the story line, but just didn't develop.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2007

    hated this book

    I love mystery and international lit, so I thought great a book with both. Boring! My mind kept wandering in this book from start to finish. I made myself get through it hoping it might get better. My daughter couldn't get past the first chapter. I gave it to my dad thinking it might be a man's book, but he didn't get far either. All of us are avid readers and this book just didn't make the cut for any of us.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting setting, somewhat confusing story

    The story is somewhat of a standard paperback mystery/triller played in a magnificent setting of Ottoman Empire. I really enjoyed its historical and cultural feature, but I found the plot rather fantasmagoric, confusing and somewhat hard to follow. I grade the books as Buy and Keep (BK), Read Library book and Return ( RLR) and Once I Put it Down I Couldn't Pick it Up ( OIPD-ICPU). I am sorry to say but I personally grade this one as OIPD-ICPU.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer


    In 1836 the Seraskier Commander of the New Guard asks eunuch Inspector Yashim Togalu to unobtrusively investigate the unexplained disappearance of four soldiers just prior to the Sultan¿s edict to modernize the Ottoman Empire. The Seraskier insists that Yashim must solve the case before the Sultan¿s modernization proclamation ten days away.------------- Yashim calmly begins his inquiries, but soon finds corpses and more questions. As he begins to connect the dots with the help of Polish ambassador Palieski and transvestite dancer Preen, Yashim concludes that the corrupt elite mystical Janissaries, eradicated a decade ago by the New Guard, plan a coup d¿etat. Once the Ottoman Empires beloved protectors, they had become terrorists until their elimination, but now they are ready to go further than they did prior to the 1826 devastation unless Yashim can prevent assassination and civil war.-------------- Though Yashim is not fully developed beyond a few hints and his sleuthing skills, readers will greatly appreciate this vivid nineteenth century Ottoman Empire mystery. The sense of locale is incredible as the audience will feel that Jason Goodwin transported us back to 1836 at a time when Europe is modernizing and the Sultan must do likewise or risk the decline of the empire. Historical mystery fans who enjoy exotic locations will want to read the delightfully descriptive THE JANISSARY TREE.------------------ Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Wonderful cultural view, potentially good series start

    Istanbul in 1836 is a far cry from the Constantinople of Byzantine days, and Goodwin does an excellent job of portraying the city and a slice of the culture in that era when the Ottoman Empire was known as 'the sick man of Europe'. Nothing works as it was meant to, houses and standards are decaying, and yet people manage to carry on with day-to-day living--and dying. The detective of this new mystery series is Yashim Togalu, and because Yashim is a eunuch, he has access to the sultan's harem. Because he is a noticing sort with a network of contacts and friends, he is the investigator the sultan calls on to take care of problems that crop up, like finding one of his harem strangled in her room hours before she was to please the sultan. Other bodies turn up in more grisly locales, too, and Yashim fears that the Janissaries, once the elite soldiers of the empire and now a mercenary rabble after they were 'purged' 10 years earlier, are trying to stage a comeback and retake control of the crumbling empire. There is an unnecessary and quite awkward sex scene that makes no sense put in the latter half of the book. If that were left out, or at least made to harmonize with Yashim's physical state, the plot would be better off. But the characters grabbed my interest, and the descriptions of the Grand Bazaar brought back my own memories of the place, which, other than having electricity in spots, is probably unchanged from Yashim's day. I gave it 4 stars because I enjoyed Yashim and his old Polish friend, but 3.5 would be more accurate. I did buy the second book in the series, and see improvements already, I will write a review of The Snake Stone when I finish it.

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  • Posted June 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Good potential

    The author is very comfortable with the story's environment and history. The characters especially the main one, Yashim, had such potential for being great but were just just shy of being interesting. The exception was the Polish ambassador. Since the plot was dependent on the characters' psychological profile to move the story along, it sort of missed the mark, too. Without giving the ending away, I can simply say I didn't feel their pain, thus, the reason for the whole story was sort of lost. However, the action sequences in the book were top notch! The author wasn't comfortable in writing the obligatory sex scene and it showed. And the repeated reference to sheathing the sword was a bit 13-year old boy inside joke with his pals. This was no spellbinder, but a good book for the beach. The author's story telling has a provocative and diverse era for his fabulously unique setting and potentially fascinating main character in Yashim. Hopefully, the next one in the series will capture that potential.

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  • Posted December 17, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Worth it

    but just a tiny bit hard to follow. I would have loved for Yashim to explain the entire plot to someone at the end, but it may actually be an echo of the theme of the book, that many things must be forever left unsaid.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2006


    A beautiful work. An exciting book that always has you guessing. I could't put it down. This book is about an Ottoman eunuch, Yashim, who is trying to solve a murder and dissapearence mystery. The amount of historical research and information in this book was very rich. Without realizing it, you learn so much abour Ottoman and Turkish history. You never know or quiet fully understand what's going on until the end. I really loved the finish and enjoyed it. An inspirational work of art.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2006

    The birth of a wonderful new sleuth.

    Goodwin has creatively melded the historic and exotic world of the Ottoman Empire with a striking murder mystery. Through the protagonist, Yashim, the reader experiences the diverse cultures and political under-currents of this exciting period. I look forward to the next Investigator Yashim story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2006

    Great Historical Fiction and Mystery

    The Ottoman Empire and it's culture is endlessly fascinating. This book explores this culture along with several other undercurrents running throughout the book. This is a particularly interesting period when the 'modernization' of the empire is being done. Very interesting, informative and real.

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    Posted December 31, 2014

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    Posted October 18, 2009

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    Posted October 7, 2010

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    Posted July 30, 2011

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