Jason Goodwin, The Bellini Card

bellinicardThe Bellini Card is the fourth in Jason Goodwin’s series of detective novels set in nineteenth-century Istanbul and “starring” the eunuch, Yashim, and his intrepid friend, Pawlewski, ambassador to the Sublime Porte from the no-longer-extant Kingdom of Poland. The Bellini Card finds our duo in pursuit of a portrait of the great Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet the Conqueror, and takes them out of the City to the murky canals of Venice, home of Giovanni Bellini, the painter whose handiwork they seek. Meanwhile, Yashim and Pawlewski are constantly comparing La Serenissima to their own beloved Istanbul (and usually the Western version comes up wanting.)

I’m warming up to these novels, perhaps because Goodwin is becoming a better and better writer of fiction. I felt the first in the series (The Janissary Tree) was marred by overlong and sometimes tedious explanatory passages on Ottoman history, but now Godwin seems to have found a way to integrate his immense knowledge of the topic within a suspenseful, well-written and sometimes humorous story. (And luckily, Yashim’s unlikely adventures with women were confined to a few short pages in this one, because that’s the point where I always think the writer is trying to have it both ways: Yashim can only have access to female witnesses by being a eunuch, but then Goodwin wants to make sure Yashim gets something besides delicious food and makes him always end up with some hot chick which I feel is cheating!)

(Read from April 13-April 14, 2010)

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