Of elections and other mysteries

The Snake Stone by Jason Goodwin

Today is a day off in Armenia, because there are presidential elections. I am planning to use this day to catch up on writing reviews and a couple of other blogposts. My boyfriend is off all day working as a translator for the international election observer mission (I had applied, but unfortunately through a bit of a mix-up wasn’t selected), so I have the house to myself. I don’t expect him back till early tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, chances are not imaginary that there will be street protests that could turn violent in the next couple of days. I so hope this won’t happen.

Off to my review.

The Snake Stone by Jason Goodwin is the second in a series with the eunuch Yashim as the private investigator. So far there are only two books, the first being The Janissary Tree. The book is set in the Istanbul of the mid-19th century, where many different nationalities live together. As a eunuch, Yashim has free access to both the exclusively female part of Ottoman society, the Sultan’s harem for example, and to the male part of society.

One day in 1838, a French archaeologist arrives in Istanbul who is determined to find some lost Byzantine treasure. Coincidence or not, this arrival is accompanied by the murders and attempted murders of several members of Istanbul’s Greek community. Yashim sets out to investigate these. But when the archaeologist is also found murdered, Yashim’s position becomes complicated because everything points to him being the killer. Yashim has only a few days time to find the real killer until the publication of the official report of the murder.

The Snake Stone was an entertaining read, not really because of the mystery, but because of the setting and the main character. After finishing the book, the mystery itself left me thinking: “Was that all?” What really made me enjoy the book were the descriptions of Istanbul and all the different colorful characters: Yashim himself, Lord Byron‘s physician, the ambassador of Poland (which was a non-existent country at the time), the archaeologist’s wife, the Sultan’s mother…

Strange for a mystery, but this one seems more setting-driven, than plot or character-driven. On the other hand, many of these characters don’t really develop or grow as you would expect in a character-driven book. Their portraits, their descriptions are the strong point.

And don’t forget the descriptions of food being prepared. Yes, really! These scenes are mouthwatering. When you read the book you will understand. In fact, my favorite scene from the book involves Yashim and the widow of the archaeologist (who has unexpectedly showed up at his house and doesn’t know yet that her husband was killed) preparing dinner.

Despite the book falling short of being a nail-biting suspense-filled mystery, I found The Snake Stone a very satisfying read once I got used to the pace and the rhythm of the story and had somewhat adjusted my expectations. I’d certainly like to read the first part of the series and keep up with any following books with Yashim as the investigator.

2 thoughts on “Of elections and other mysteries

  1. We’re doing fine. Election day itself was quiet. Yesterday there was a big opposition protest going on in the center of Yerevan protesting the results. We were sent home at about 2pm from work and at that time lots of people were going home, public transport was packed when I went home (I live just outside the city center). From what I know, things stayed fairly quiet and didn’t turn violent.

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