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.
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 2006 Reed Business Information.