The Snake Stone (Yashim the Eunuch Series #2)

( 9 )

Overview

Istanbul, 1838. In his palace on the Bosphorus, Sultan Mahmud II is dying, and the city swirls with rumors and alarms. The unexpected arrival of a French archaeologist determined to track down lost Byzantine treasures throws the Greek community into confusion. Yashim Togalu is once again enlisted to investigate. But when the archaeologist's mutilated body is discovered outside the French embassy, it turns out there is only one suspect: Yashim himself. As the body count starts to rise, Yashim must uncover the ...
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The Snake Stone (Yashim the Eunuch Series #2)

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Overview

Istanbul, 1838. In his palace on the Bosphorus, Sultan Mahmud II is dying, and the city swirls with rumors and alarms. The unexpected arrival of a French archaeologist determined to track down lost Byzantine treasures throws the Greek community into confusion. Yashim Togalu is once again enlisted to investigate. But when the archaeologist's mutilated body is discovered outside the French embassy, it turns out there is only one suspect: Yashim himself. As the body count starts to rise, Yashim must uncover the startling truth behind a shadowy society dedicated to the revival of the Byzantine Empire, encountering along the way such vibrant characters as Lord Byron's doctor and the Sultan's West Indies–born mother, the Valide. With striking wit and irresistible flair, Jason Goodwin takes us into a world where the stakes are high, betrayal is death—and the pleasure to the listener is immense.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A magic carpet ride to the most exotic place on earth." —-The New York Times Book Review
Clare Clark
The real pleasure of The Snake Stone lies in its powerful evocation of the cultural melting pot that was 19th-century Istanbul. Goodwin is a historian by training, and his sharp eye combines with a poetic style to bring the city vividly to life, from the night boatmen in their lamp-lit caiques to the scents and colors of the bazaar to the food that Yashim lovingly prepares. Bitterly regretting the loss of his manhood, Yashim has sublimated his stolen desires into the sensual pleasures of cooking, and the book is crammed with mouth-watering descriptions of creamy pilafs and delicate mezze. The spice-scented flavor of this book lingers long after its plot is forgotten.
—The Washington Post
Marilyn Stasio
When you read a historical mystery by Jason Goodwin, you take a magic carpet ride to the most exotic place on earth…The needless complications of the plot—which sees evil intent in everything from the journals of a learned Greek society to the induction rites of the watermen's guild—actually work in its favor by evoking the chaos of life in the ancient city that straddles the Golden Horn. Goodwin presents this in sumptuous detail, in scenes that take Yashim from the social heights of Topkapi Palace to the dregs of the docks, with a fragrant side trip into the spice market at the Grand Bazaar, source of the ingredients for the elaborate Ottoman dishes he serves his eccentric friend, Stanislaw Palewski, an ambassador of the now-defunct nation of Poland. Their erudite table talk is always lively, as are the conversations Yashim initiates with anyone who has a story to tell. These exchanges don't always have anything to do with the plot, but they provide the nicest kind of traveling music for that magic carpet ride.
—The New York Times Book Review
Janet Maslin
As it revels in Istanbul as a place "positively overrun with mountebanks, schemers and dealers of every nationality, and none," this sinuous novel corrals as many of these operators as it can and then sets them to work hoodwinking one another. Yashim becomes the one beacon of clarity in an otherwise finagler-filled world…Yashim…most clearly gives this series its personality. As a man of many talents—one of which is to engage in a kissing flirtation with a French minx named Amelie, despite his sexual limitations—he moves charmingly across the book's complicated landscape. Whether he is stopping to cook, chat, cogitate, interrogate or renew old acquaintances at the harem, he is a detective with a difference. It takes a warmly appealing character to stand out amid the bustle of Mr. Goodwin's Turkish tableau.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Early 19th-century Istanbul's teeming mix of nationalities, religions and cultures comes alive in this vibrant sequel to the Edgar-winning The Janissary Tree(2006). When French archeologist Maximilien Lefèvre begins asking very pointed, well-informed questions about long-lost Greek artifacts and then is found dead outside the French embassy, series hero Yashim, a Turkish eunuch, finds himself suspected of the murder. His efforts to clear his name take him from markets and wharves to palaces and underground tunnels as he uncovers a secret society, unearths sacred relics and hunts the murderer. Goodwin's secondary characters, particularly Yashim's close friend Stanislaw Palewski, the world-weary Polish ambassador, are distinct and memorable, and the mystery presents an entertaining challenge to the reader as well as to charming, determined Yashim. With his second effort as intricate and delightful as the first, Goodwin takes his rightful place among such distinguished British historical mystery writers as Lindsay Davis and the late Edith Pargeter. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A leisurely mystery set in 19th-century Istanbul, the second in a series which began with The Janissary Tree (2006), winner of the 2007 Edgar Award. Providing continuity is Yashim, the eunuch and investigator who worked for the sultan. Now it's two years later, 1838, the sultan is dying, and Yashim has less clout, though he's still a confidant of the Queen Mother. The story starts with a bang when George, a Greek, is almost killed next to his vegetable stall. We'll find out much later that his misadventure is merely a red herring. Someone of more consequence is Max Lefevre, a shady French archaeologist with a passion for Greek antiquities described in a book he hides in Yashim's apartment. Lefevre is being pursued and begs Yashim for help; the eunuch gets him a berth on an Italian vessel, but next thing you know Lefevre is found dead, his face eaten away by dogs, outside the French embassy, and Yashim finds himself under suspicion. Who was pursuing the Frenchman? Could it have been the Hetira, a super-secret organization pushing for a new Greek empire? Its name keeps cropping up, then fades away in a story that proceeds by fits and starts. There are more puzzling murders (an Albanian waterman, a Jewish moneylender) but they're over in seconds, leaving plenty of time for Yashim to indulge his first love, cooking, and Goodwin, a British historian, to fill us in on Istanbul's fabled past and exotic present. The large cast includes a Greek banking family and the English doctor who attended Byron at Missilonghi. Nobody is quite who they seem, there may or may not be valuable relics above ground or below (there are two scenes in Istanbul's maze of tunnels), and through it all glides Yashim, agentle presence, who will fight only when he must. A mildly entertaining smoke-and-mirrors tale that teases more than it delivers. Agent: Sarah Chalfant/Wylie Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400140114
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/1/2009
  • Series: Yashim the Eunuch Series , #2
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Library - Unabridged CD
  • Sales rank: 546,806
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Jason Goodwin is the author of Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire and On Foot to the Golden Horn.

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 Snake Stone

A Novel
By Goodwin, Jason

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2007 Goodwin, Jason
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780374299354

Chapter 1
The voice was low and rough and it came from behind as dusk fell.
“Hey, George.”
It was the hour of the evening prayer, when you could no longer distinguish between a black thread and a white one, in ordinary light. George pulled the paring knife from his belt and sliced it through the air as he turned. All over Istanbul, muezzins in their minarets threw back their heads and began to chant.
It was a good time to kick a man to death in the street.
The grainy ululations swept in sobbing waves across the Golden Horn, where the Greek oarsmen on the gliding caïques were lighting their lamps. The notes of prayer rolled over the European town at Pera, a few lights wavering against the black ridge of Pera Hill. They skimmed the Bosphorus to ÜskÜdar, a smudge of purple fading back into the blackness of the mountains; and from there, on the Asian side, the mosques on the waterline echoed them back.
A foot caught George in the small of his back. George’s arms went wide and he stumbled toward a man who had a long face as if he were sorrowing for something.
The sound swelled as muezzin after muezzin picked up the cry, weaving between the city’s minarets the shimmer of a chant that expressed in a thousandways the infirmity of man and the oneness of God.
After that the knife wasn’t any good.
The call to prayer lasts about two and a half minutes, but for George it stopped sooner. The sad-faced man stooped and picked up the knife. It was very sharp, but its end was broken. It wasn’t a knife for a fight. He threw it into the shadows.
When the men had gone, a yellow dog came cautiously out of a nearby doorway. A second dog slunk forward on its belly and crouched close by, whining hopefully. Its tail thumped the ground. The first dog gave a low growl and showed its teeth. 
2
Maximilien Lefèvre leaned over the rail and plugged his cheroot into the surf which seethed from the ship’s hull. Seraglio Point was developing on the port bow, its trees still black and massy in the early light. As the ship rounded the point, revealing the Galata Tower on the heights of Pera, Lefèvre pulled a handkerchief from his sleeve to wipe his hands; his skin was clammy from the salt air.
He looked up at the walls of the sultan’s palace, patting the back of his neck with the handkerchief. There was an ancient column in the Fourth Court of the seraglio, topped by a Corinthian capital, which was sometimes visible from the sea, between the trees. It was the lingering relic of an acropolis that had stood there many centuries ago, when Byzantium was nothing but a colony of the Greeks: before it became a second Rome, before it became the navel of the world. Most people didn’t know the column still existed; sometimes you saw it, sometimes not.
The ship heaved, and Lefèvre gave a grunt of satisfaction.
Slowly the Stamboul shore of the Golden Horn came into view, a procession of domes and minarets that surged forward, one by one, and then modestly retired. Below the domes, cascading down to the busy waterfront, the roofs of Istanbul were glowing red and orange in the first sunlight. This was the panorama that visitors always admired: Constantinople, Istanbul, city of patriarchs and sultans, the busy kaleidoscope of the gorgeous East, the pride of fifteen centuries.
The disappointment came later.
Lefèvre shrugged, lit another cheroot, and turned his attention to the deck. Four sailors in bare feet and dirty singlets were stooped by the anchor chain, awaiting their captain’s signal. Others were clawing up the sails overhead. The helmsman eased the ship to port, closing in on the shore and the countercurrent that would bring them to a stop. The captain raised his hand, the chain ran out with the sound of cannon fire, the anchor bit, and the ship heaved slowly back against the chain.
A boat was lowered, and Lefèvre descended into it after his trunk.
At the Pera landing stage, a young Greek sailor jumped ashore with a stick to push back the crowd of touts. With his other hand he gestured for a tip.
Lefèvre put a small coin into his hand and the young man spat.
“City moneys,” he said contemptuously. “City moneys very bad, Excellency.” He kept his hand out.
Lefèvre winked. “Piastres de Malta,” he said quietly.
“Oho!” The Greek squinted at the coin and his face brightened.
“Ve-ery good.” He redoubled his efforts with the touts. “These is robbers. You wants I finds you porter? Hotel? Very clean, Excellency.”
“No, thank you.”
“Bad mans here. You is first times in the city, Excellency?”
“No.” Lefèvre shook his head.
The men on the landing stage fell silent. Some of them began to turn away. A man was approaching across the planked walk in green slippers. He was of medium build, with a head of snowy white hair. His eyes were piercingly blue. He wore baggy blue trousers, an open shirt of faded red cotton.
“Doctor Lefèvre? Follow me, please.” Over his shoulder he said: “Your trunk will be taken care of.”
Lefèvre gave a shrug. “À la prochaine.”
“Adio, m’sieur,” the Greek sailor replied slowly.  Excerpted from The Snake Stone by Jason Goodwin. Copyright © 2007 by Jason Goodwin. Published in October 2007 by Sarah Crichton Books, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

Continues...

Excerpted from The Snake Stone by Goodwin, Jason Copyright © 2007 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 Snake Stone 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 Snake Stone.

Discussion Questions

1. Yashim has a special place in Istanbul because he is a eunuch. He is a "listener", a "protector" and "not entirely a man". He has access to Topkapi Palace, reaching levels as high as the Valide, the Sultan’s mother, but is also comfortable with farmers and money lenders. How else does Yashim’s station help him in his investigation? How does it affect his relationships and his interactions with others?

2. In The Snake Stone, there are many characters, and the city of Istanbul itself may be considered one of them. Early in the novel, LeFevre gives a brief history of the city, as well as an introduction to some of its many names: Byzantium, Constantinople, and Istanbul. How does the character of Istanbul shape and influence the story? Can you think of other cites you’ve visited whose long history continues to shape them today?

3. On a similar note, Istanbul and the Ottomans were always at the crossroads of East and West. This continues in modern day Turkey where the traditional and Islamic are constantly battling with more secular, Western lifestyles. How does Goodwin address this tension in the novel?

4. One point that Goodwin mentions repeatedly is the Sultan’s focus on bringing Western dress to Istanbul, in particular, the change from the turban to the Fez. Yashim, however, prefers to wear a turban. His friend George–the market vendor whose beating begins the novel–also wears his own traditional dress: the "brimless, blue cap and black slippers that defined him as a Greek." Discuss how the characters’ clothes do more than define there place in society – do they also move the story forward in some way?

5. One of the most interesting aspects of The Snake Stone is the way the author gives a full picture of the city and all its varied ethnic groups. For example, the main focus of Yashim’s investigations through much of the novel is the Hetira. Discuss how this cultural diversion brings tension to the story.

6. Although we primarily see the story through Yashim’s eyes, Goodwin also gives us a taste of what’s happening outside his range of vision. Often, these events are happening simultaneously. The most interesting example of this is when Amelie LaFevre is trying to get into Aya Sofia and Yashim is moving through the water tunnels looking for Xani’s body. What does this kind of storytelling do for the novel? Does it heighten the suspense for the readers to know what Yashim does not?

7. As a Pole, Stanislaw Palewski is distinctly an outsider in Istanbul and a very good friend to Yashim. Does he give a perspective to the investigation that the characters native to Istanbul cannot? Or is his importance in the story more closely related to what is hidden in his cupboard?

8. Food and cooking play a big part in Yashim’s life and in this novel. Why do you think the author would choose to write about Yashim’s cooking in such fine detail?

9. Yashim also says that the Ottomans had been perfecting the subtleties of flavor and spices centuries earlier while Europeans were still eating meat off the bone with their fingers. Do Turkish and Middle Eastern food still reflect this today? Does an American hamburger or an English roast beef seem more appealing to you than one of Yashim’s carefully crafted dolma?

10. Yashim is not a detective by trade, rather, he is forced to find Max LeFevre’s killer to prevent himself from being named as such. Does this give Yashim’s search greater urgency than if he were a hired detective or a government official? How would the story have been different if he was?

11. The "snake stone" of the title literally refers to the Medusa statue hidden in Istanbul’s water tunnels, and eventually links the watermen’s guild to the protection of the relics that LeFevre and others are searching for. Can you see other, more subtle references and allusions implied by the title?

12. In the beginning of the book, Max LeFevre tells Yashim and Palewski that he believes everything he reads in books. The Gyllius– the book Max LeFevre leaves in Yashim’s apartment–is what leads him and his wife Amelie to believe that there is hiding place under Aya Sofia. There is a thread about myth and reality in this novel which is illustrated in the example of the Gyllius. Even after Yashim pieces together the mystery of the relics, the watermen, and the serpent heads, the valide reminds him, and the reader, that one should never believe everything they read. How do the history and myths of Istanbul help deliver this cliché-turned-lesson in this novel?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2007

    A reviewer

    This book takes the reader to a mysterious time and place. I love Yashim he is believable, likable and interesting. The characters fit well into the story. The plot is excellent. The scenes made me feel I was right there in this ancient past.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 15, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    The Snake Stone by Jason Goodwin

    The story was a sequel to "The Janissary Tree" written by Jason Goodwin. "The Snake Stone" had the same local characters as the first book. Also, there were recurring themes where various cultures, and people from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East were brought together in the melting pot of Istanbul.

    For readers that wish to engage in the melding of the various cultures within the Turkish Empire during past ages, the book offers fun reading. The series is geared toward the niche of people that have a historian's eye for exploring history. Therefore, I would not recommend the book to people that don't have any desire or interest in themes written during historical periods, or bygone ages.

    The book compares Christianity, both Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic, as well as the Moslem faith of the Turkish Sultans. Also, there is a comparison between French, Polish, Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Italian, Roman, Russian and Byzantine cultures during the time period. The reader could fathom how the advances in culure, after the Napoleonic and Greek Revolutions, influenced the world, including Turkey.

    The plot revolves around a society of Greek Revolutionaries searching for a lost Byzantine/Roman artifact in the aqueducts of Turkey. There are references to Lord Byron, and archeological sites of later cities built upon older cities. Yashim, the Sultan's chief investigator, must get to the bottom of the mystery. There are chase scenes in the ancient aqueducts, and catacombs of ancient Constantinople, or later referred to as Istanbul.

    Yashim can be shown to be a Sherlock Holmes type of character. For many readers, the background to this story offers a unique and original character. So, Jason Goodwin, much to his credit, in writing these detective mystery stories, doesn't utilize a writer's poetic license to reinvent plots or characters from previously written material.

    Also, I've read stories regarding the Knight's Templar, and other religious knightly orders. So, to read about the fall of the Janissary's in the first book by a changing Turkish aristocracy, and a murder plot revolving around that time period with Russian influence was original. Again, people interesting in history, and historic fictional genres would be interesting in this type of book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Different Kind of Detective

    This is a good discovery among the many detective stories out there. It is unusual as its protaganist is a eunuch based in the 19th Century and working in an exotic locale, Istanbul. The author is very familiar with this locale and adds color on every page with geographical, historical, cultural or gastronomical references. The weaving of plot was interesting and engaging and the investigator, Yashim, is a captivating character, physical when necessary and emotional at other times. Just the kind of person to walk Topkapi palace and advise Sultans while remaining safe among the beautiful, sexy women of the harum. Check out the character of the Valide. This book is sure to send you to your dictionary and French primer.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 29, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Good reading.

    Yashim is suspected; but of course he is the good guy and again is triumphant. Love the way history is incorporated and presented.

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    Posted January 14, 2010

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