When a part-time sleuth—and full-time eunuch—happens upon a dastardly, if somewhat inept, nest of killers, what else can he do but save the day?
Aboard a ship sailing from Bari to Istanbul, a man called La Piuma, "The Feather," leans over the rail, oblivious to the person standing behind him, a would-be assassin working for "The Committee," who decides to let him live another day. In Istanbul, the courtly eunuch/detective Yashim (An Evil Eye, 2011, etc.) enjoys an evening of culture at the Polish embassy with Ambassador Palewski and guests. They discuss the local political situation, the papacy and matters of artistic note in mid-19th-century Europe. Yashim is on hand when Palewski receives and pooh-poohs a warning about The Committee. Days later, he hears Natasha, a beautiful young Russian, spin tales of brutal killings and ominous plots. She and Yashim engage in what feels oddly like a romantic romp. Meanwhile, Giancarlo, Rafael and Fabrizio, a trio of energetic Italians, plot urgently but with questionable efficacy to complete the assignment postponed in the shipboard prologue. Their collaboration with the sketchy Father Doherty raises still more questions. With the help of the mysterious Marta, Yashim is eventually able to convince Ambassador Palewski that the expected Polish prince Czartoryski is in grave danger. Can the prince be intercepted in time and saved?
Yashim's fifth, and reportedly final, case unfolds more like a picaresque caper than a whodunit, elegantly written and immersing the reader in exotic 19th-century Turkey. Still, it's a long and leisurely road to actions of consequence.