A leisurely mystery set in 19th-century Istanbul, the second in a series which began with The Janissary Tree (2006), winner of the 2007 Edgar Award.
Providing continuity is Yashim, the eunuch and investigator who worked for the sultan. Now it’s two years later, 1838, the sultan is dying, and Yashim has less clout, though he’s still a confidant of the Queen Mother. The story starts with a bang when George, a Greek, is almost killed next to his vegetable stall. We’ll find out much later that his misadventure is merely a red herring. Someone of more consequence is Max Lefèvre, a shady French archaeologist with a passion for Greek antiquities described in a book he hides in Yashim’s apartment. Lefèvre is being pursued and begs Yashim for help; the eunuch gets him a berth on an Italian vessel, but next thing you know Lefèvre is found dead, his face eaten away by dogs, outside the French embassy, and Yashim finds himself under suspicion. Who was pursuing the Frenchman? Could it have been the Hetira, a super-secret organization pushing for a new Greek empire? Its name keeps cropping up, then fades away in a story that proceeds by fits and starts. There are more puzzling murders (an Albanian waterman, a Jewish moneylender) but they’re over in seconds, leaving plenty of time for Yashim to indulge his first love, cooking, and Goodwin, a British historian, to fill us in on Istanbul’s fabled past and exotic present. The large cast includes a Greek banking family and the English doctor who attended Byron at Missilonghi. Nobody is quite who they seem, there may or may not be valuable relics above ground or below (there are two scenes in Istanbul’s maze of tunnels), and through it all glides Yashim, a gentle presence, who will fight only when he must.
A mildly entertaining smoke-and-mirrors tale that teases more than it delivers.