Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Janissary Tree

The Janissary Tree is a Turkish mystery novel; the first in what appears to be a new series that stars the character of Investigator Yashim. A coworker loaned it to me and I loved the descriptions of Istanbul in the 1800’s, the culinary detours it took describing Turkish food, and I really enjoyed the character of Investigator Yashim, who is a eunuch (crucial to the plot, not just a middle school fixation on a minor detail).

That said, I was sort of over-stimulated by all the different characters and their titles. Sometimes it seemed like each chapter was its own little story, introducing a whole bevy of new characters with confusing titles that you may or may not see reappear later in the book. By the time one character would reappear in the story, I couldn’t remember if they were new or if maybe we’d met them 10 chapters ago for like a second – and then I’d wonder, “Am I supposed to remember something important about this dude that is crucial to the solving of the mystery!?”

The story follows corruption and murder within the Ottoman Empire of 1836. Yashim is summoned by the city’s military leader to solve the mystery of 4 soldiers who recently disappeared and are feared murdered. One by one, the corpses of the soldiers appear in public ala Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. While Yashim fights the clock to solve the mystery before all 4 soldiers are killed, one of the sultan's harem girls is murdered and the jewels she was wearing stolen. Yashim is left to wonder if the murders are connected, or if he has two separate mysteries on his hands.

This book has murder, a sexy Russian princess, coups, sparkly jewels, lots of eunuchs (no jewels), and clashes between traditional Istanbul and western modernization. But even with all of this, The Janissary Tree fell just a few steps short of being awesome for me. I’m pretty sure the author Jason Goodwin isn’t reading my blog to see what I thought and he’s probably already finished his next book starring Yashim, The Snake Stone but my advice would be to eliminate all the extraneous characters and further develop only the best ones. I hope the future books have more of Preen, Stanislaw Palewski, and Murad Eslek, these were my favorite supporting characters.

For my next read, I have a top secret assignment. Well, not totally top secret, but kind of! A friend of a friend (or really, a daughter of a friend of the family who I've never met) wrote a novel and I've volunteered to read it and make suggestions to help trim it down. The secret part comes in because I was told for now not to mention the book title. I was a little nervous when the weighty envelope arrived on Saturday because I really had no idea what the book was about and maybe I would hate it! But imagine my relief after reading 60 pages tonight and discovering that it is GOOD! Whew. Bullet dodged.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

Hmmm...I'm a bit curious on this one. I'll have to give it a try since I have a weird fun fascination with Turkey.