Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Posts Tagged ‘historical mystery’

The Baklava Club

Posted by nliakos on January 1, 2015

by Jason Goodwin (Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2014)

This was a serendipitous find–I picked it off a display in the library. It’s the most recent of a series of mysteries featuring Yashim, an investigator working for the Ottoman Sultan (and his mother, the valide) in 19th century Istanbul. Although I prefer to begin a series at the beginning, in this case I just went ahead and read the last one; now I have to go back and read The Janissary Tree, The Snake Stone, The Bellini Card, and An Evil Eye.  Goodwin has also written several nonfiction books which sound very tempting–one about the history and geography of tea, one about the history of the Ottoman Empire, one about the dollar, and one about walking to Istanbul. I love his writing style and think I will enjoy just about all of these.

In this novel set in 1842, Yashim and his friend Count Palewski, the Polish ambassador (representing a country which at that time no longer existed) become entangled in an intrigue involving three idealistic Italians, a sultry Danish woman, a Siberian hoping to secure a pardon for her father, a Polish prince, and a drunken Irish priest. Before it’s all over (and frankly I am still not exactly sure who did what), several of them are dead. I won’t say who! But not everyone is what s/he says s/he is.

Goodwin evokes the time and place with brief but telling descriptions, like this one about the public baths of Istanbul: At the public baths men and women could be washed, steamed, scrubbed, rinsed, lathered, soaked, bathed, and exfoliated; their hair could be cut, their body hair removed with wax and unguents, their nails pared, their nostrils and ears washed, their skin softened with creams and oils, their muscles manipulated, their hands and feet rubbed, their temples massaged; they could be roasted on hot platforms, and chilled in cold baths; then pummeled and stroked, kneaded and splashed down, before they emerged shining for a glass of tea and a sweet cake.  This sentence (yes! It’s only one sentence!) makes me long to visit such a bath.

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