The Snake Stone

Written by Jason Goodwin
Review by Marina Oliver

This is the second novel in the series featuring Yashim the Eunuch. Goodwin has written non-fiction about the Ottoman Empire and Istanbul and uses his familiarity with the history and geography to create a very real and richly detailed early 19th-century background. Yashim is an attractive detective towering over the other characters.

When a French archaeologist arrives seeking lost treasure, Yashim is hired to find out about him. Then the body is discovered and Yashim is the likeliest suspect. There are other murders and gradually these strands come together. It is a complicated plot and much of the action takes place in the underground tunnels and cisterns which bring water to the city. I’ve been there when they were pleasantly lit, and they must be terrifying in the dark.

Goodwin’s prose style is lyrical and evocative but spare with occasional flashes of humour. I think his familiarity with Istanbul and its history makes him forget that many of his readers do not share his knowledge. I was irritated by unexplained references to historical facts and people I did not know and, Turkish (I assume), words the meaning of which I had to guess. The multiple viewpoints made the reading jerky and did not contribute to the unravelling of the plot.

If you have visited Istanbul you will enjoy this book. If not, I suggest you read a brief history and equip yourself with a city map before starting.