Saturday, May 25, 2013

An Evil Eye by Jason Goodwin

I purchased this book and recommended it to my book group based on the recommendation of a highly respected, interesting, cultured, intelligent friend.  I'm not sure if I needed to have read the first three in this "set" to really appreciate the book, or if it just wasn't my style, or what, but I thought it was good!  But just that:  good!

This "set" is not so much a series of books that must be read in order -- I understand it is more like a set of mystery novels, that can certainly be read out of order.  Inspector Yashim is a Eunuch in Istanbul with connections to the Sultan and other high ranking politicos, who is permitted to live outside of the castle, and who ends up being the man called in to solve the most bizarre or intricate of crimes.  He also happens to stumble upon others, in light of his life and connections.  In this book, Yashim is called in to see about a body in a monastery that has mysteriously appeared.

The unfamiliarity with the subject matter and even the most basic of things such as a persons title make the beginning of the book difficult to wade through.  Efendi appears to be a sort of casual title -- perhaps akin to "sir" or "friend" and is often used in connection with the proper name for an individual, and occasionally on its own.  Such as:  Efendi Yashim or just Efendi.  Pasha is another title... and Valide I believe is a title and not a proper name.  Goodwin uses these words as if they are every day words to his readers.  And perhaps they are to some; and perhaps readers of the first three found these words familiar.  But as for my friends, co book group readers, and myself: a glossary would have been helpful to refer to for reminders and a brief explanation or background.  I can understand not weighing down the story w/ these definitions, but as I say, a glossary of some sort would have been helpful.

The other frustrating/annoying bit about the book is the author's gratuitous food scenes.  I understand that some of these mystery-type authors want their theme, but this one already has one -- exotic locations, foreign involvement, and history!  No need to bring in how that onion was cut, how the parsley was sprinkled, etc.

On the plus side, however, it was an entertaining story and somewhat rewarding in the end.  For me, once I passed the halfway point, it became a quick read, and I wanted to know what happened next.  I began to read much more quickly, and even found myself wanting to turn the page rather than obey my bed time.  I also liked some of the side characters quite a bit (particularly Palewski), and I imagine that having read the first 3 books would have assisted more in caring about Yashim's own backstory.

There appears to be a story of revenge lurking in the background, and once the "big reveal" was made at the end of An Evil Eye, I imagined that I might have cared more if I knew why it was such a big reveal.

Overall, I enjoyed the scenery, I enjoyed the familiarity with the unusual (to us here in America, anyway), and I enjoyed the mystery.  As I said, it was good!  But not great.  I would recommend to someone who is a big mystery fan, a fan of Istanbul and/or harems and/or sultans and/or historical politics.  I would recommend to someone looking for a meatier book, a denser book.

THREE AND A HALF of five stars.

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