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The Janissary Tree: A Novel [Audiobook, CD, Unabridged] [Audio CD]

Jason Goodwin , Stephen Hoye
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 7 2007 Yashim the Eunuch (Book 1)
The Janissary Tree, the first book in a new series, is set in a most extraordinary world and features a most extraordinary sleuth.

It is 1836. Europe is modernizing, and the Ottoman Empire must follow suit. But just before the sultan announces sweeping changes, a wave of murders threatens the fragile balance of power in his court. Who is behind them? Only one intelligence agent can be trusted to find out: Yashim Togalu, a man both brilliant and near-invisible in this world.

You see, Yashim is a eunuch.

He leads us into the palace's luxurious seraglios and Istanbul's teeming streets, and leans on the wisdom of a dyspeptic Polish ambassador, a transsexual dancer, and a Creole-born queen mother. He finds sweet salvation in the arms of another man's wife (this is not your everyday eunuch). And he introduces us to the Janissaries. For 400 years earlier the sultan had them crushed. Are the Janissaries staging a brutal comeback?

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From Publishers Weekly

Goodwin, the author of a well-received history of the Ottoman Empire, Lords of the Horizons (1999), makes a welcome shift to fiction with this impressive first of a new mystery series set in the empire's declining decades. In 1836, though the corrupt elite troops known as the Janissaries were crushed 10 years earlier, there are ominous signs that their influence still persists in the twisted alleys and secret places of Istanbul. A series of crimes, including the barbaric murders of several soldiers and the theft of some precious jewels, leads eunuch Yashim Togalu to delve into the past in an effort to separate legend from truth. With special access to all areas of the sultan's royal court, Yashim uses his network of contacts to try to solve the crimes. The author, no surprise, does an excellent job of evoking his chosen locale. While his sleuth's character may be less developed than some readers might wish, no doubt Yashim will emerge as a more rounded figure in future entries of what one hopes will be a long-running series. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Historian Goodwin, author of Lords of the Horizons (1999), introduces a promising new mystery series set in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. When a string of murders disturbs the tenuous tranquility of the sultan's royal court, savvy eunuch Yashim Togalu is called upon to investigate. Digging deeper into the past in order to understand the perils of the present, Yashim discovers a link between the crimes and the Janissaries, a disloyal band of elite soldiers banned by the sultan ten years earlier. As Yashim wends his way in and out of the opulent palace and through the sordid back alleys of nineteenth-century Istanbul, the reader is treated to an appropriately exotic tour of a time and a place where intrigue, deceit, and corruption fueled perilous personal and political passions. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining read March 26 2014
By ITS
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an interesting book within the historical fiction genre. The main plot revolves around the Janissary conspiracy. The former elite fighting units that subjugated any army they came across in the medieval era were no more. The sultan has banished and destroyed them, and they are staging a comeback.

The setting is as fascinating as a place ca be. Istanbul in the beginning of nineteenth century. Struggling between a glorious past, and a bleak future. Jason Goodwin does an excellent job in bringing it to life vividly through a cast of colorful characters. You can almost smell the bazaars and the musty alleys.

The eunuchs, the harem, the sultan, the soldiers, the mythical branches of Islam, the diplomats, and the kocek dancers make for an excellent story. The whole story is seen through the eyes of Yashim the main character, and with expediency of crime solving on a deadline. It reminds me a bit of Dan Brown's sagas such as "The Da Vinci Code" or "Angels and Demons". A chase through an ancient city where nothing really is the way it looks, and everything apparently simple is a symbol for something deep.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book as easy to read, pleasant, and intelligent. If you are every so slightly interested in the once mighty Ottoman empire, this book is for you.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating new hero Aug. 2 2009
By Prairie Pal TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
There have been castrati heroes in detective fiction before -- Mary Reed's John the Eunuch series set in 6th-century Constantinople comes to mind -- but none can have been as likable as Yashim of "The Janissary Tree" by Jason Goodwin. Yashim is a former palace eunuch living on a little pension in an Istanbul side street. His reputation for cleverness and discretion leads to a commission to investigate the disappearance and gruesome murder of military cadets. What emerges is a plot to destroy the crumbling the Ottoman empire and its fumblings toward modernity.

Goodwin succeeds in giving us an entrée into a vanished world that exists now only in the palaces and museums of modern-day Turkey. Yashim is a humane and credible figure and sequels are welcome.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Janissary Tree March 9 2008
Format:Paperback
I was very disappointed in this book. There has been quite a bit of hype about it as an award-winning first-fiction book, but I don't think it lives up to its reputation.
There are some excellent and fascinating descriptions of 1830s Istanbul, and the hero - a eunuch - shows promise at the beginning. However each chapter is so disjointed from the one before it, and so many different - and apparently unconnected - characters are introduced that it was only because this is a book club choice that I continued to plough through it.
The denoument, when it finally comes (and I was beginning to wonder!) is hackneyed in the extreme.
I am quite sure that Mr. Goodwin's non-fiction titles are a lot more interesting than this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin June 30 2009
Format:Hardcover
The Janissary Tree
By Jason Goodwin
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
May, 2006
ISBN-13: 978-0-374-17860-4
ISBN-10: 0-374-17860-7
Mystery

Istanbul in the year of 1836. This mystical city, known in earlier times as Byzantium, Constantinople, even the second Rome, is brewing a revolution. You can taste it in the air. The Sultan, an aging man fond of drink and certain western ideologies, is about to issue an edict that will force the modern world upon his people. A valued collection of Napoleonic jewels has been stolen from the palace. In seemingly unrelated incidents, a young woman about to become a full member of the harem and an officer, one of four missing members of the New Guard, are found murdered. Someone has left a disturbing poem on the Janissary Tree-that infamous landmark the vanquished Old Guard once hung their enemies upon. And Russia, anticipating more turmoil, is preparing to advance on the city.

The valide, the Sultan's mother, who has thrived in the violent world of Ottoman politics, suspects a coup is underway. Her son's seraskier, the head of the armed forces, is only concerned with putting on a good review the day of the edict, with showing people that the backbone of the empire is unbreakable. The Sultan? He's keeping his opinions to himself but has sent for a man named Yashim Togalu.

Yashim is called the lala, the guardian. This is a title of respect given to men who have been charged with the responsibility of caring for families and households of rich and powerful people. These men are trusted with women and children because they are all-without exception-eunuchs, men who have been castrated at an early age.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  104 reviews
91 of 93 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars And let not the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree June 13 2006
By Leonard Fleisig - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Isaiah 56:3

Investigator Yashim, the hero of Jason Goodwin's first novel, "The Janissary Tree" may be a Turkish eunuch but it is not at all likely that anyone reading this book will think of him as a "dry tree". In fact, if Yashim's steamy encounter with the beautiful but lonely wife of the Russian ambassador to Turkey halfway through the book is any indication, this is one heck of a unique eunuch.

I would love to have been present when Goodwin pitched the idea of a novel (and the first in a proposed series) about a crime-solving eunuch in Istanbul to his agent or publisher. Fortunately, someone had the good sense to green light this project as Goodwin has crafted a highly-entertaining book.

The Janissary Tree is set in Istanbul in 1836. Ten years earlier the Janissaries, the Sultan's version of the Roman Empire's Praetorian Guards, had been crushed by the "New Guard", the Sultan's standing army. Like the Praetorian Guards the Janissaries had evolved from a protective legion to one that terrorized the populace and the Sultan. Now, ten years later, the mysterious disappearance of four members of the New Guard and the murder of one of the Sultan's harem heralds the possible return of the Janissaries. The return of the Janissaries threatens to destroy the Sultanate and the relative calm of Istanbul. Enter Investigator Yashim. He is given ten days to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Yashim is soon engulfed in murder and intrigue. Bodies begin to appear in bizarre places as Yashim and his friends (including a somewhat decadent Polish Ambassador who has no country to represent and a transvestite dancer) try to get to the bottom of this alleged revolt.

Goodwin is very good at keeping the plot boiling (in more ways than one). Goodwin, who studied Byzantine history at Cambridge and who has written books on the history of the Ottoman Empire, has ample knowledge of the time and the place and has put this knowledge to good use. Goodwin seems to convey a real sense of how the city must have looked, felt, and even smelled more than 180 years or so ago.

The Janissary Tree reminded me of Boris Akunin's Erast Fandorin novels (late 19th-century Russia) and Arturo Perez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste stories (17th-century Spain). They all take the standard detective or mystery story and transport the reader to a different time and place. As with both Akunin and Perez-Reverte's novels, Jason Goodwin's "The Janissary Tree" is an entertaining and diverting read. I look forward to the next in the series.

L. Fleisig
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Murder in Istanbul 1836. Janissary Redux? Call in the Eunuch July 30 2007
By Douglas S. Wood - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Jason Goodwin sets 'The Janissary Tree: A Novel' in 1836 Istanbul, just ten years after Sultan Mahmud II destroyed the Janissaries in what was known euphemistically as The Auspicious Incident. The Sultan is now modernizing his army, but four of them have disappeared and begin to turn up dead. Simultaneously, one of the Sultan's harem is murdered. The 'detective' Yashim is called in to investigate both crimes.

Yashim is unusual in literary history; for one, he's an Ottoman detective and for two, he's a eunuch. Believe it or not, Turkish detectives (see Graveyard Eyes and even eunuch detectives Four for a Boy (John the Eunuch Mysteries) can be found elsewhere. Nonetheless, Yashim's character is certainly an attention-grabber.

The Janissaries had been the Sultan's household army for some 450 years including playing a key role in the final defeat of the Byzantine Empire at Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453. Are they behind the disappearance of the four soldiers of the new army? Is the murder in the harem related?

As Yashim pursues answers he takes the reader through 19th century Istanbul, a teeming cosmos at the juncture of Europe and Asia inhabited by peoples from around the Meditarrean and beyond, but still tradition bound - dominated by Islam but claimed Jews and Orthodox Christian as well.

Goodwin brings to bear his formidable knowledge of the region's history (see his Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empireand On Foot to the Golden Horn: A Walk to Istanbul) to create a lively sense of this wondrous city as rich in human history as any place on earth. His descriptions bring the sights and smells, - especially the smells of cooking - to life. He plays on the possibility that the Sultan's mother, the Valide Sultan, may have been the cousin of Josephine Bonaparte. And, Godwin's Yashim will almost certainly change your opinion about eunuchs.

The major shortcomings of 'The Janissary Tree: A Novel' are the introduction of too many characters that are not developed and a couple superfluous side stories.

A strong first novel by Jason Goodwin with more to come. A fun, engaging, and dare I say educational tale. Highly recommended.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Murders in Istanbul in a romatic time Sept. 12 2006
By Stephen McHenry - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Not only set in the location of Istanbul in the 1830s but also set inside the fabric of the Ottoman empire life; there a clever and resourceful eunich is the go-to man when the Sultan's mother wants to solve the murder of a haarem girl and at same time the head of the army has a slight problem with officers starting to turn up dead in unusual ways. The author's strength is his understanding of the Ottomans and Istanbul; the reader sees and feels the strength of history and culture and its effect on the story. The characters are interesting, the mystery believable, the resolution smart and creditable. Written in 2006 in the structure influenced by Dan Brown's short chapter keep-it-moving style, it was a very enjoyable read and I hope there are more to come.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Bit Disappointing Jan. 31 2008
By S. T. Sullivan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
From all the wonderful reviews this got, both here on amazon and elsewhere, I have to admit I was expecting more from this mystery set during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. Goodwin is a skillful writer, and he has an obvious love for Turkey and its culture, but the plot seemed hackneyed and the execution was less than riveting.

The protagonist Inspector Yashim is a colorful character, but I cared so little for everyone else in the book that I had a hard time finishing it. I hope in between writing the Janissary Tree and his next book, Goodwin brushed up on what makes a good mystery thriller, and can deliver a plot line and set of supporting characters that equal Inspector Yashim.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to like it... Dec 3 2008
By EinLA - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I wanted to like it - I have spent months in Turkey, a fair bit of time in Istanbul, enjoyed the culture and history, so I thought why not give it a try. I enjoyed the main character - BUT it is too slow. The story (what little of it there is) drags, as almost every chapter (and they are quite short) begins with a long and detailed description of a place or character, like a guide book. And I appreciate that it is billed as a novel, but really, it is a mystery - one that moves quite slowly. Maybe you want to read about the history of the Genoese tower (or some other such thing) every 2nd or 3rd page - but I don't. I've been there, I've seen it. Give me some story, a mystery that moves along more quickly. Do I really have to read all about the ingredients of this dish and that dish? So I began to skip over paragraphs - not my favorite way to read a book. Maybe you won't mind all of the exposition - I prefer a narrative that moves - particularly in a mystery!
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