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The Janissary Tree

(Yashim the Eunuch #1)

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  5,201 ratings  ·  791 reviews
"Jason Goodwin has unleashed his talent on a series of mysteries set in nineteenth-century Istanbul and starring the unlikeliest and most engaging of detectives: Yashim the eunuch."

The Janissary Tree is the first in the series, and the year is 1836. Europe is modernizing, and the sultan of the Ottoman Empire feels he has no choice but to follow suit. But just as he's pois
Paperback, 320 pages
Published May 15th 2007 by Picador USA (first published May 16th 2006)
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William Asher I got a free account from Hoopla from my local library. I was able to get the audiobook of all from this series that way.

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3.53  · 
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 ·  5,201 ratings  ·  791 reviews

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Apr 13, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one.
Truth is, I did not finish it. I found the characters too much like from a comic-book (not even a graphic novel), and it, well, plodded.

It actually won an Edgar - which is why I checked it out the library in the first place.

But the real kicker is the author sincerely dislikes Constantinople/Istanbul, the scene of the crime. Why do I say this? Well, they say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. In my case, I studied Ottoman history in grad school and found it fascinating. The book says inside
Apr 23, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I cannot enjoy this Historical Mystery Novel.

The mystery part has not much mystery to solve, I believe readers could guess it easily before the protagonist reveal the culprit. No need to reveal more. It is one of the easiest mystery that I've ever read.

For setting and background, at first I have high hope with eunuch detective and his unusual friends. But then, the details of the characters are not convincing. At read status update, I wrote I found 2 flaws in details. Well, I don't remember wha
Dec 26, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: shit
This book is very, very encouraging for prospective authors of historical fiction: By all means, go ahead and write a book and don't bother to make any research: there are enough idiots out there (including myself) with plenty of time and money to spend recklessly on a boring story and facts that don't simply match. This is a waste!

- Many of the names are made-up; Yashim, Preen, Palmuk! What the heck? These names are not Turkish at all!
- The story transpires in 1836; there are visionary characte
Feb 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes, the same thing that makes a writer a brilliant historian prevents him from becoming something much more humble, say, a writer of mysteries. Jason Goodwin, whose book The Lord of the Horizons was a wonderful short history of the Ottoman Empire, tripped up a bit when he wrote his The Janissary Tree. The hero of the book is an investigator who also happens to be a eunuch. In the approaching twilight years of the Empire, Yashim tries to understand a plot to bring down the Sultanate on the ...more
Apr 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009
The setting of the The Janissary Tree> is fascinating: the novel takes place in 1836 in Istanbul, with the Ottoman empire on the cusp between tradition and the modernity that will ultimately destroy it. And the main character, Yashim, who is a eunuch, certainly provides a twist on the traditional detective! However, I can’t say that I loved the novel as a novel, rather than as a thinly veiled history lesson about a rather forgotten period in history. In fact, every character was ready to spou ...more
Dec 27, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: history buffs, detective novel fans
Recommended to Neocortext by: Dave
Oh, the lure of the exotic. And what could be more exotic to a Californian on a rainy winter weekend than a mystery set in the crumbling Ottoman empire of the 1830s with a eunuch investigator, intrigues among harem concubines, Janissaries, and the ambassadors of France, Russia, Poland, and England, among many others?
I picked this book up on a whim after reading about it on my friend Dave's blog (, and, despite intending to read and work on many other things, found myself with m
May 08, 2018 rated it liked it
I tried it, but would not consider reading further in the series. The slow pace with abundance of historical detail brought the progress of the plot to a mournful halt on many occasions. For me, at least, a little OTtoman Empire goes a long way.
Jun 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone

The Janissary Tree is the first time I’ve read anything by author Jason Goodwin. Set in Istanbul in the mid-19th century it reminded me of My Name is Black, but this is a less ambitious novel. Still it is a very good one, but shorter and probably much more accessible to the casual/average reader.

I liked the writing, the plotting and the descriptions of time and place. The author made me feel as if I was there and able to understand the life of the ordinary people that form the backdrop of this c
Jan 20, 2008 rated it liked it
This historical murder mystery reminds me of Caleb Carr's writing except Goodwin doesn't have Carr's flair for suspense nor can he generate the excitement or horror that Carr achieves in books like "The Alienist". In short, Goodwin isn't a GREAT murder/mystery writer, but he is a GOOD mystery writer and what he does achieve here is an ability to transport the reader back to Istanbul in the 1830's. I had read Goodwin's history book of the Ottoman Empire, "Lord's of the Horizon" and what is remark ...more
Renita D'Silva
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Brilliant and absolutely amazing
Isil Arican
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
A close friend recommended this book, and it did not disappoint. :)

It was a fun read - a detective story taking place in the late periods of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul. The main character is almost an Ottoman Sherlock Holmes, a charismatic eunuch called Yashim with a colorful personality. Yashim investigates multiple murders to connect them to a common motive and solves the mystery.

It is fun to read and engaging. The author did a thorough research regarding Istanbul and some Turkish customs
Jul 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: whodunnit
Surprised this won the Edgar Award. Book was pretty dry and a little disjointed. I suppose that when the hero was in mortal danger, I was supposed to be nervous on his account, but I wasn't. The stakes if the eunuch failed his mission were pretty high--four terrible murders about to be committed, the sultan and his mother would be killed, city in flames, revolution and invasion, no more French novels--but I was blithely unconcerned.

Completely lacking in suspense. Also it was pretty obvious who t
Sep 14, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I have to admit that I totally don’t get what the fuss is all about. The Janissary Tree bears all the earmarks of a first novel, including a healthy crop of irritating literary tics that I sincerely hope Goodwin will outgrow (to name one: the habit of ending many, many chapters with ridiculously purple Perils of Pauline-esque “cliff-hangers” [of this variety: “Little did he know how soon he would be seeing his friend again—and under what shocking circumstances!”]). Okay, I made that one up, but ...more
Mar 25, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Lynne by: Amazon
Shelves: 2007-2008
I read this because I was interested in the details of 19th century Istanbul, as it was faced with European influences and change. I'm a fan of detective novels only if I get a good dose of charactr and culture (as in James Lee Burke and Tony Hillerman), but this one felt wooden and contrived to if the author was more interested in the political and cultural history than the characters.
Sep 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
In THE JANISSARY TREE, Jason Goodwin introduces us to a fascinating character: Detective Yasmin, a man whose keen observations of the world around him bring to life the tumultuous era of 19th century Istanbul. Yasmin is a eunuch, but not without his own appetites; favored by the palace, he is called upon by the Sultan, who is on the cusp of introducing sweeping changes even as he dwells in an archaic system of officials, harem girls, indolence and stifling etiquette. But when the bodies of four ...more
Picked this up because I read a blurb on NPR about the cookbook. I like food, I like mysteries, I like history... I also like good writing. This book has the first three, and also 50% of the last. It has writing.

It has a lot of writing. I suspect that Jason Goodwin wrote technical manuals in his previous career.

This is one of those books where the author feels the need to put down every piece of research they did for the book directly into the book. Apparently many details aren't accurate, which
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
So-so mystery set in 19th century Istanbul. The hero was unusual, a eunuch, probably had the operation after puberty; there is a somewhat risible sex scene; also he passes for a regular man during his investigations. There are three "military mysteries"--deaths of soldiers and one of an odalisque in the sultan's harem. Could it be the Janissaries are behind the deaths? Strong point in mystery's favor is the exotic atmosphere. Story was confusing and long-winded. I do not see how it got the award ...more
Aug 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio-500
This was a decent historical mystery, but it was lacking in some areas for me. I loved the colorful backdrop that the setting held, but I wish Goodwin would have given more information about the Harem murder. He focused so much on the military murders and running around after Janissaries that he almost forgot to connect the end resolution to the original murder. But, I did like the characters and he gave me a good enough taste of the setting that I'll definitely check out another in the series.
T. K. Elliott (Tiffany)
This book got off to a slow start, but it did pick up. It's carried by Yashim - the main character - and his Polish friend. The mystery is somewhat less prominent, and there are a few plot inconsistencies - like the sudden lack of interest in where the four soldiers were. And so on. Other reviewers have also pointed out many historical inaccuracies - which, since I know very little about nineteenth century Istanbul, I missed.

But despite all that, I'm giving it four stars because I enjoyed readi
Aug 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent mystery in which the author successfully uses his encyclopedic academic knowledge of the Ottoman empire circa 1830.
Historians don't often have the ability to turn their interesting knowledge into a compelling book but Goodwin does. Although very good, his skill suggests that he could improve as a writer (and may have done so, as this is the first in a series). What I loved about this book is the palpable atmosphere he creates of this under appreciated advanced culture. Goodwin is at h
Harry Connolly
Jan 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
The whole time I was reading this, I kept thinking This is why I give terrific books like MAPLECROFT four stars, because I need room for THIS.

Then I got to the end, and the whole thing fell flat.

The setting is Istanbul in the 1830's, and an army officer has been murdered, his body displayed in a gruesome way. Imperial operative Yashim is brought in to solve the killing, and to find the other three officers who disappeared at the same time. Yashim is a man of some breeding who can move unobtrusi
Jul 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: murder-mystery
Set in the 1830s, Istanbul seems peaceful with exotic spices perfuming the air. But 4 cadets of the New Guard are missing and their general, the seraskier, seeks the assistance of Yashim lala, the stealthy guardian of security, a trusted eunuch approved by the Sultan and who has access to the harem. When one by one, 3 of the cadets are found dead and in very disturbing circumstances, Yashim realizes that their disappearance and also the methods by which they are killed and where they are found h ...more
Beth Cato
Apr 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Istanbul, the navel of the world, on the cusp of Europe and Asia. In 1836, the world is quickly modernizing, but the oldest of sins remains the same: murder. Specifically, four of the sultan's soldiers have vanished, and one found dead and trussed in a large kettle. At the same time, one of the harem girls is also found murdered. The sultan calls on the services of Inspector Yashim, a brilliant man - or somewhat of a man, as he's also a eunuch. Yashim's status brings him scorn, but also full acc ...more
Oct 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Yashim, an investigator who can travel anywhere within the Ottoman Empire to solve murders, is the unlikely hero of this novel. Four officers of the new military disappear, bright intelligent young men all. When they turn up murdered in horrible ways Yashim finds the trail appears to lead to the Janissaries, a ruthless group of mercenaries who served as the empire's guards for four hundred years. Because he is a eunuch, he can even move within the sultan's harem if needed.

Yashim must discover wh
The Ottoman Empire is modernizing in 1836. The corrupt Janissary Corp was forcibly disbanded 10 years ago and the Sultan is on the verge of making sweeping changes. A series of disturbing murders are committed in Istanbul and Yashim must find the culprit before wide spread panic ensues.

The cast includes a Polish ambassador without a country, a Russian ambassador with a bored wife, the leader of the new Ottoman Army, the Sultan’s mother and a transsexual dancer, to name a few. The amount of char
The first offering in this detective series set in Istambul in the 1830's. Yashim is on the trail of a conspirary of former soldiers "The Janissaries" while trying to solve the murder of a woman in the Sultan's harem and the theft of the Sultan's mother precious jewels given to her by Napoleon's wife Josephine. The setting is exotic, the plot is intriguing. Yashim is endearing. Those are the pluses.

But... this book suffers from what I've nicknamed the "Dan Brown syndrome" 132 chapters for 300 p
Susan Hirtz
Aug 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'm glad I disregarded the unfavorable reviews of those who preceded me as readers. Mr. Goodwin is thorough as a researcher and obviously felt it important to his story to include the details of this period in Turkish history. I, for one, having read Suleiman the Magnificent and other books about the Ottoman Empire, think it vital for Westerners to understand the history of the Middle East.

The Janissaries were the Sultan's right arm in the expansion of the Ottoman Empire and helped him retain hi
Sep 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very fun and very atmospheric. One of the cleverest things Goodwin does is make his central character a palace eunuch, one of the few people who can move between different strata of society - the palace, the harem, the hamaam, the city itself. This allows you, the reader, to peek into different quarters of the city, to enter a variety of Ottoman Istanbul's circles that ordinarily would have little contact with each other.

I read this shortly before I went to Turkey, and when I found myself on th
Jul 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel-related
Perhaps it's because I'm heading to Istanbul soon, but I liked this very much. Goodwin's descriptions meant I could picture the characters, feel the cashmere, get stuck behind donkey carts and taste the food. The Janissary Tree interweaves mystery with spiced coffee, dastardly fiends and history lessons of a sort. What fun.
Sep 04, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-fiction
You could do a lot worse, and I wanted to tell the author to keep trying. There are some serious lapses in taste and the writing could be a little tighter -- maybe he needs a better editor. But still, a good try at portraying an interesting place and not-well-known time.
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Jason Goodwin's latest book is YASHIM COOKS ISTANBUL: Culinary Adventures in the Ottoman Kitchen.
He studied Byzantine history at Cambridge University - and returned to an old obsession to write The Gunpowder Gardens or, A Time For Tea: Travels in China and India in Search of Tea, which was shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Award. When the Berlin Wall fell, he walked from Poland to Istanbul to encoun

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“Lufta nuk ka shumë rëndësi për një njeri. Një shqiptar se ka fare problem. Pyesni grekët.” 0 likes
“The rice had gone clear, so he threw in a handful of currants and another of pine nuts, a lump of sugar, and a big pinch of salt. He took down a jar from the shelf and helped himself to a spoonful of oily tomato paste, which he mixed into a tea glass of water. He drained the glass into the rice, with a hiss and a plume of steam. He added a pinch of dried mint and ground some pepper into the pot and stirred the rice, then clamped on a lid and” 0 likes
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