Author: Jason Goodwin, 2011.
Genre: Historical Murder Mystery. 19th Century Turkey.
Other Details: Hardback. 304 pages.
Set in 1839, a year earlier than the events of The Bellini Card, this fourth novel featuring Ottoman investigator Yashim the Eunuch deals with the political situation in Istanbul following the death of Sultan Mahmut II and the elevation of his 16-year old son, Abdulmecid. During this period of transition there is much turmoil, especially in the harem as the women of the old sultan are forced to retire to Eski Saray, the Palace of Tears, to make way for Abdulmecid's women. There is a great deal of intrigue behind these closed doors and Yashim, as one of the only men allowed within the harem, is called in to assist. However, when some of the women fall victim to a mysterious illness his skills as a detective are also called upon.
He also has sleuthing to do outside the palace when the body of a man bearing a strange tattoo is found in a monastery well. Yashim's friend, the Polish ambassador Stanislaw Palewski, who serves as Watson to Yashim's Holmes, identifies the tattoo as indicating membership in a secret Russian organisation. This highlights the tense political situation facing the declining Ottoman Empire during this period. Yashim's past is also stirred up when he learns that his former mentor, Fevzi Ahmed, commander of the Ottoman fleet had defected to Egypt and handed over the entire fleet to them leaving Istanbul defenceless.
While I enjoyed this as I have done all in the series, I have to admit that given the complicated politics it demanded close attention to keep abreast of plot and characters. Also, with such a gap between this and #3 in the series, which I had read in 2009, I found I had rather lost touch with the language of the Ottoman court, so it took a little while for me to get back into the flow.
As always Jason Goodwin does a superb job with the setting and the rich historical detail seamlessly blending fact and fiction. He provides fascinating insight into the day-to-day life of the harem anchored in fact rather than the Orientalist fantasies of 19th century artists and writers. Also, included are more of Yashim's recipes, described in mouth-watering detail.