The Bellini Card
This is Goodwin’s third novel featuring Yashim, the Ottoman detective whose charm and quick wits amply make up for the absence of a few vital parts. With a new sultan, Mahmut’s son, Abulmecid, on the throne, Yashim is given his first commission to find Gentile Bellini’s portrait of the great Ottoman ruler, Mehmet the Conqueror, and restore it safely to Istanbul before it can fall into the hands of unbelievers and the Austrians in particular. The portrait was last seen in Venice, and it is there that the main action of the book then moves. Goodwin sees Venice ‘as an aspect of Istanbul’ whose wealth, culture and even culinary traditions permeated the floating city on the Adriatic. In 1840, however, Venice has been reduced to a shadow of its former glory with many of its treasures stolen, first by the French and latterly the Hapsburgs: the Venetian saying, ‘come era, dov’era’ (how it was, where it was) is beginning to sound a bit hollow. The few remaining Venetian aristocrats cling proudly to their heritage – in particular, the renowned Bellini portrait.
With the usual colourful cast – Yashim and Palewski are joined, among others, by a flamboyant countess, shady art dealers and a Venetian commissario – Goodwin’s tale romps to a climax involving a dam and plenty of muddy water. The final clue revolves around Archimedes’ mysterious diagram in which all lives and events are interlocked and things change but ‘nothing, in the end, moves out of the square’.