Evil Eye, An Hardcover – Mar 29 2011
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"When you read a historical mystery by Jason Goodwin, you take a magic carpet ride to the most exotic place on earth." -- Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Jason Goodwin is the bestselling author of The Janissary Tree, The Snake Stone, and The Bellini Card, the first three books in his series of novels featuring Yashim. Goodwin studied Byzantine history at Cambridge and is the author of Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire, among other award-winning nonfiction. He lives with his wife and their four children in England.See all Product Description
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
There is a slap-dash, first draft feel to this book. Back in "The Olden Days," when publishers could afford to hire and empower top notch editors, Mr. Goodwin would surely have been told that he has too many characters here, way too many plot lines (some of which are never fully or cogently developed), far too many truly implausible coincidences, and an incredible amount of just plain bad writing, especially toward the end of the book. Mr. Goodwin's "Explain All This Complexity To The Dear Reader In Phony Dialogue In The Last Twenty Pages" went out of style after very early, ham-handed Agatha Christie novels. Some parts of this book are so bad, they could have been written by an adolescent for a high school Creative Writing class. By the time the reader gets to the end, in fact, his or her willingness to suspend disbelief has been exhausted, and he or she no longer cares what happened or why Mr. Goodwin wants us to think so.
I suspect that both Mr. Goodwin and his publishers may have pushed hard to rush this book into print. That's a shame, because the death of Sultan Mahmut and the coming to power of the young Abdulmecid should have offered Mr. Goodwin enough material for at least two books - one about what took place inside the harems when there was a change of sultan, and another about what went on politically and socially, mostly among men, as a new reign began. Sadly, "An Evil Eye" tries to compress both stories into one book, which means that Goodwin fails to give us either story at all well. Too bad that "An Evil Eye" didn't undergo a good deal of serious editing and rewriting. Those of us who love Yashim can only feel frustration that Mr. Goodwin did not take the time to craft these stories better and make them thoroughly convincing.
With the exception of the last book 'The Bellini Card' the Yashim stories have always started with a leisurely introduction of mid-1800's Istanbul and perhaps a slice-of-life moment with Yashim buying a book or having a meal with his friend, the Polish Ambassador Palewski. Taking place the year before the events of 'The Bellini Card', 'An Evil Eye' starts off with a bang (or BOOM of cannon fire) with Yashim rushing to help clear the late Sultan's harem as the new Sultan's women arrive. He's then immediately thrown onto a murder investigation by the grand vizier involving a body found near a christian monastery and a flap of human skin with a strange marking. If that wasn't enough Yashim's investigations lead him on the trail of Fevzi Ahmet, the Kapudan pasha on the island of Chalki....and the person who trained Yashim to be a detective!
Obviously there's a lot going on in 'The Evil Eye', as Palewski says: "Yashim, you seem to have prevented a sectarian riot, identified a corpse and thrown suspicion on the Russians, all the while I was drinking my pear syrup. Incredible." Jason Goodwin's wry-humor and fast pacing manage to keep the plot engaging even as the story whimsically shifts around to different characters. Palewski and the lady Valide continue to be the series' best-written personalities (and both are given some great moments in the story) but it's the newer characters, particularly the women and eunuchs of the sultan's harem that provide the freshest and most fascinating perspectives.
In the first two books Yashim was fun and charming but kind of a blank-slate and his underdeveloped characterization made him come off as mysterious and fascinating as the Ottoman Empire itself. In 'The Bellini Card' and especially this new book 'An Evil Eye' we're not only seeing a more daring and cynical Yashim, we actually get some brief insights into his past and interactions with his former instructor. I was a bit put off by this change at first, but I've grown to like this more direct Yashim and I even liked how his being a eunuch starts to weigh on him a bit. His brief, mentor-like connection with the runaway Kadri was a bit obvious but an enjoyable contrast to Yashim's other relationships.
'An Evil Eye' may be different in tone than the previous Yashim books and the resolution is a bit untidy (or too tidy depending how you look at it). However with a more fleshed-out Yashim, a refreshing look at the harems of the Ottoman Empire and the usual colorful characters and delicious scenes of cooking (I was craving mackerel long after I finished the book!) make this my favorite Yashim adventure to date! A great selection for historical/mystery fans as well as people interested in 1800's Istanbul.
This time around he weaves in rich details of harem life--to which, of course, Yashim has access---into the intrigues surrounding the defection of the Ottoman Empire's fleet commander to the Egyptians, who along with the Russians are threatening to further weaken the political sway of the Ottomans.
It may be that the many strands in the story do not quite come together in a perfect braid, but each strand holds enough interest to keep you turning pages. There are also hints of Yashim's past that pique one's interest and promises even more fascinating glimpses into the empire's history.
By the way, it helps to have read Goodwin's "Lord of the Horizons" to fully enjoy the stories.