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The Janissary Tree: A Novel

The Janissary Tree: A Novel

4.1 9
by Jason Goodwin

Introducing Investigator Yashim: In 1830s Istanbul, an extra-ordinary hero tackles an extraordinary plot that threatens to topple the Ottoman Empire

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


Introducing Investigator Yashim: In 1830s Istanbul, an extra-ordinary hero tackles an extraordinary plot that threatens to topple the Ottoman Empire

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 Lastname, a man both brilliant and near-invisible in this world. You see, Yashim is a eunuch.

He leads us into the palace's luxurious seraglios and Istanbul's teeming streets, and leans on the wisdom of a dyspeptic Polish ambassador, a transsexual dancer, and a Creole-born queen mother. And he introduces us to the Janissaries. For 400 years, they were the empire's elite soldiers, but they grew too powerful, and ten years ago, the Sultan had them crushed. Are the Janissaries staging a brutal comeback?

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

The Janissary Tree is the winner of the 2007 Edgar Award for best novel.

Editorial Reviews

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.

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Investigator Yashim , #1
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Read an Excerpt

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 tap tap.

"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.

Meet the Author

Jason Goodwin's previous books include Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire and On Foot to the Golden Horn. He lives in Sussex, England, is married with four children, speaks French and German and once walked from Poland to Istanbul.

Jason Goodwin is the Edgar Award–winning author of the Investigator Yashim series. The first four books—The Janissary Tree, The Snake Stone, The Bellini Card, and An Evil Eye—have been published to international acclaim. Goodwin studied Byzantine history at Cambridge and is the author of Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire, among other award-winning nonfiction. He lives with his wife and children in England.

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The Janissary Tree (Yashim the Eunuch Series #1) Signed Edition 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Grafics too much too soon and not pleasant will try again as this is a lost leader intro into the series though the castoria detective is in another series opera singer.
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