Yashim, an investigator who can travel anywhere within the Ottoman Empire to solve murders, is the unlikely hero of this novel. Four officers of the new military disappear, bright intelligent young men all. When they turn up murdered in horrible ways Yashim finds the trail appears to lead to the Janissaries, a ruthless group of mercenaries who served as the empire's guards for four hundred years. Because he is a eunuch, he can even move within the sultan's harem if needed.
Yashim must discover why the bodies are turning up in specific places. After searching maps and archives for the first fire towers Yashim determines that he is on the wrong track. He begins searching for traditional rooms used by the Janissaries for religious activities. In the process he has a stimulating sexual encounter with Eugenia, a beautiful Russian woman. And, he barely survives an attempt on his life in the public baths when he falls asleep and locked in a steam room where he is nearly cooked to death.
The story is complex, winding, and ever changing. Each time Yashim believes he is on the right track, another clue is uncovered to enlarge the puzzle. As the story unfolds, the reader becomes fascinated with what is happening. And, what appears to be happening is only part of the story. Excellent read! I plan to read The Bellini Card, too.
I have come to watch out for the description "historical novel" as a code-word for "romance novel." I want a book with an interesting plot that is part and parcel of the place and time, not just plopped down in it. This is definitely one. The author's incorporates a mystery plot which could only happen in the time and place he describes. And his detailed knowledge of the geography, customs, and technology of 19th-century Istanbul is artfully woven around the characters.
I very much enjoyed this book. The setting is 1800's Istanbul and Mr. Goodwin does a wonderful job of setting the scene and creating the atmosphere. The chapters are very short which made this book a quick (but not trivial) read. I am looking forward to the next installment.