Thursday, February 02, 2017

"An Evil Eye" by Jason Goodwin

Jason Goodwin's Inspector Yashim is a former associate of the Janissary corps. An Evil Eye is the fourth book about Yashim. Action takes place in Istanbul between 1836 and 1839, at a time when Topkapi Palace, the royal court, and indeed the entire Ottoman Empire were filled with international intrigue. Yashim is a private detective (without that title) in the service of the government. Murders, espionage, and more are his specialty. He collaborates with various officials, harem attendants and harem ladies, the Polish ambassador Palewski, and many other colorful characters. In this book there's quite a bit of important action on the Prince's Islands, one of the places I visited on both of my trips to Istanbul.

"The largest of the Prince’s Islands advanced swiftly over the sun-pricked waters. ... The air smelled of charcoal and roasted meat where the kebab vendors had set up their braziers in the shade." (Photo -- my 1990 visit, text -- An Evil Eye, p. 17)
Yashim loves to cook and eat, and all of the books in Goodwin's series contain a wide variety of food descriptions, as well as plenty of background in the exciting city and its markets. His friend George the vegetable seller doesn't play as large a role as in earlier books, but he's there too: "High summer vegetables glutted the market. Every stall was piled with pyramids of glossy eggplants, both the purple and the white; sacks of spinach, green onions, fresh beans of every shape and color, popped from their skins. Everyone sold tomatoes, even George— who made a pyramid of fruit that resembled purplish turbans." (p. 115). 

Throughout the book, Yashim purchases food and there are long descriptions of how, exactly, he cooks each dish; I've decided to concentrate on the other material, not to quote these near-recipes for dishes like fish stew, lentil soup, and various fish preparations. The streets are full of vendors as in the following passage and the photo from our 1990 visit:

A vendor's cart with simits, a type of hard roll.
"Crowds thronged the shoreline on the Pera side, and spilled through the gates that opened in Istanbul’s Byzantine walls, their appetite whetted by the scent of roasted chestnuts and corncobs grilling on little fires. A man with long mustaches raked stuffed mussels over a brazier. The simit seller wandered through the crowd, with his distinctive bread rings on a tray on his head. The sherbet seller followed him, clinking two glasses between finger and thumb, and the water man, with his tank on his back. Boys darted through the crowd with roasted chickpeas in paper bags, and the sahlep men pushed their trolleys along the waterfront, offering their concoction of sweet orchid root sprinkled with ginger and cinnamon. "(p. 254).
"The waiter set a tray before them, with the little cubes of roasted lamb,
bread, and a gypsy salad of cheese with red onion and peppers.(p. 117).
Photo: a buffet of Turkish specialties where we ate.
A view from the plaza at Topkapi Palace where some of the important
events in the novel take place. We visited Topkapi only once in 1990.

At the Grand Bazaar, where Yashim sometimes shops. On every visit,
we have been fascinated by the markets and the sellers of so many types of goods.

Along the waterside we saw the old wooden houses with docks where small boats tie up. These "yalis" have a role in the Yashim novels, as well as in several of the other books set in Istanbul that I've recently read about the 16th through 21st centuries. Every era of Istanbul history is characterized by population growth, constant building activity, and changes
in the cityscape. Fascinating!
The plot of An Evil Eye is very very complicated with tricky behavior from a Pasha (government official), Russian envoys and spies, thugs working for various interests as well as their own, Greek Orthodox churchmen, various women and girls in the harem (including the Sultan's grandmother), and many others. The personal history of Yashim is also complex, as are the relevant histories of several other characters. I'm not sure I understood every twist and turn, and I don't want to try to explain it at all -- but it's a very amusing book to read, as are all the others in the Yashim series.


Tina said...

That is so interesting how you paired up your photos with the novel. Looks to be exotic, love the street markets and foods available to try. You sure do travel to some interesting locales. Best I do now is the beach 😉 How many books are in the series?

Debra Eliotseats said...

I love how you placed your travel photos in with this review!(Can't wait to see your pics from your Lima trip!)