Tag Archives: Yashim

The best new sleuth since Maigret

Disasters are said to come in threes, so maybe the same holds true of good things, too.

Last week, in The Week, A N Wilson chose The Janissary Tree as one of his six favourite books (between Wallace Stevens and St. Augustine’s Confessions). Wilson – whose new novel, The Potter’s Hand, is out this week – writes:

‘I am addicted to Goodwin’s detective stories set in in Istanbul in the 1840s. Yashim…is the best new sleuth since Maigret. The books evoke that great city and the plots are ingenious.’ 

Simultaneously I received my copy of the London Library magazine, with the cover story one I wrote about Ottomania, searching out the subject in the stacks of my favourite library.


On Monday I delivered a review of Otter Country by Miriam Darlington, to the Spectator, which came out on Friday.

Finally, our house was featured rather gorgeously in Ben Pentreath’s English Decoration, which is out next month – a copy arrived last week, too.

 

That’s four good things, you say? No, that’s one for my wife – revealing, as Ben writes, ‘the brilliance with which Kate puts together her rooms.’

Perfect!

 

 

 

 

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Cornucopia

Many readers have written to me to say that Yashim’s exploits have inspired them to visit, or re-visit, Istanbul – where the official city guides, as it happens, recommend the Yashim series to prospective tourists, as a gentle introduction to the city’s long and tumultuous story. My thanks to them all.

If any further spur was required, then Cornucopia should provide it. Cornucopia describes itself as ‘the Magazine for Connoisseurs of Turkey’, and it is that and more. It is an astonishingly beautiful magazine, published quarterly, with features on everything from old Bosphorus interiors to nomads of the steppe, from attar of roses to neolithic Anatolia, very lavishly illustrated, as the brochures would say, and intelligently written.

One way to look at what it has to offer is via this link, which begins with a review of the Yashim books by Barnaby Rogerson, author and publisher at Eland Books – of whom, and of which, more in a later post.

http://www.cornucopia.net/store/books/an-evil-eye/

A browse through the website to begin with is highly recommended!

 

Celebrating and chronicling all things Ottoman-inspired and influenced, Cornucopia is a cross between World of Interiors and National Geographic, with a gentle Turkic twist. Tyler Brülé, The Financial Times

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Lady with – ouch!

One of the joys of writing is Doing Research – ie, not actually writing at all but following a hunch.

The hunch I’ve been following up today is the story of the Czartoryski family, formerly Princes of Lithuania, whose beautiful museum in Cracow contains – among many wonderful things, including full suits of Sarmatian armour, with wings – Leonardo’s sinisterly captivating Lady with Ermine.

I first saw this painting in 1984, when Poland was under martial law; and again in 1990, when I walked through Cracow on my way to Istanbul. I saw it there a couple of years ago, too, but missed it when it came to the National Gallery last Winter. Forget the Mona Lisa’s smile – this Lady is far more mysterious!

 

The Czartoryski I’m interested in is Adam (1770-1861), who was at different times Russia’s foreign minister and also President of the Polish National Government  in 1830, when the Poles rose in revolt against Russia. A little like the Georgian Shevardnadze, perhaps, who was the USSR’s foreign minister and later President of independent Georgia.

Though the Prince never went to Istanbul himself, he sent Michał Czajkowski, a trusted lieutenant there in 1842 to investigate the possibility of creating a Polish enclave on the Bosphorus, where Poles exiled after the failure of their rebellion could settle.

The remarkable thing is that Czajkowski succeeded: a village called Adampol, or Adamköy, still exists about twenty miles outside Istanbul, and people there still speak Polish. What’s more, Czajkowski stayed in Turkey, converted to Islam, and served in the Ottoman army as Sadyk Pasha, in charge of a regiment of Ottoman Cossacks.

I feel sure that Ambassador Palewski, Yashim’s old friend, must have had something to do with it all…

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Don’t get lost…

Last night I was invited to attend a book club which meets in the oldest continuously-inhabited house in Dorset. We gathered in the old hall, with three beautiful 13th century lancet windows overlooking the croquet lawn. It was our host’s great-grandmother, I think, who had that part of the moat filled in for croquet. How civilised! We drank Venetian wine and nibbled on baklava, and people talked about the Yashim books, politely.

Something that emerged from the talk was the glaring demand for a map to accompany the books, and maybe a cast-list for people who get lost among the unfamiliar names. Let me know what you think.

Here is a pretty clear map of Istanbul/Constantinople, showing some of the major landmarks.

 

As I wrote in Lords of the Horizons,  ‘Constantinople resembled the head of a dog, pointing east on a triangular peninsula. Over its nose the channel of the Golden Horn meets the Bosphorus; its throat is caressed by the Sea of Marmara; and the land walls erected by Theodosius in the fifth century are slung across as a sort of huge loose collar from ear to chest…’

You can see the Phanariot Quarter – modern-day Fener – incorporating Balat, where Yashim lives. Pera, across the Golden Horn, was the ‘European’ quarter’, and Ambassador Palewski’s Residence stands a little inland from Tophane, among the foreign embassies.

The Galata Tower, one of the fire-fighter’s watch points in The Janissary Tree, is here labelled Christ Tower, and Topkapi palace, home of the sultans and their harems, is called the New Seraglio. The church of Hagia Sophia is just outside its walls. The Hippodrome, or Atmeidan, is the site of the Serpent Column in The Snake Stone.

Of the two bridges shown across the Golden Horn, only the more easterly Galata bridge existed in Yashim’s time: its construction features in An Evil Eye.

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Would the real Jane Eyre please stand up?

I’ve been asked by a charity, Action Against Hunger, to help at a fundraiser in London next month. Not by handing round the canapés at dinner, nor by donating a signed set of Yashim novels, and certainly not by writing out a cheque.

Instead, we are going to auction off a character in my next Yashim story – the one provisionally entitled The Latin Reader. Guests at the gala dinner will be asked to bid to have their name – or the name of someone they love – presented as a player in the forthcoming tale of revolution and betrayal.

Here’s the link:

http://www.actionagainsthunger.org.uk/get-involved/events/social-events/too-many-critics/

It’s not the first time it has been done, of course. The great Fay Weldon supposedly raised £18,000 by promising to mention the name of a famous jeweller 12 times in a novel called, guess what, The Bulgari Connection. Lee Child, the bestselling thriller writer, once told me that the name of a character in 61 Hours – the lady who’s always on the phone to Jack Reacher – was bought at a charity auction.

How far does it go? Was Mrs Dalloway in fact the wife of a wealthy industrialist? Or Ebenezer Scrooge: could he have been a generous philanthropist after all? Was Hercules Poirot an eighty-year old Belgian detective? Maybe not: maybe Agatha Christie simply hired him out, naming him after the bouncing newborn son of M and Mme Poirot, rich snail-farmers from Quimper?

My own small contribution to the genre does present me with a certain obvious challenge. Not many Ottoman pashas were known as John Smith, or Lavinia Hardy, or Ted Buxter, or whoever might be bidding on the night. Will there be any Turks at the gala? I could use an Italian, as it happens, and possibly an Irishman. But if the bid goes to, say, a Jade Hanratty or a Carol Martin… 

But there you are. It’s often a good thing to write around a restriction. Who knows what role Sylvester Branksome-Pyke might play in 1840s Istanbul?

What fun to imagine…!

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Getting the plot right

There are plenty of reasons why writers find it hard to get on with their books. In The Enemies of Promise, the critic Cyril Connolly famously defined one of them as The Pram in the Hall. He did not mention The Seed Catalogue, but then Connolly was not, I imagine, much of a vegetable gardener.

So here I am, ostensibly working on the plot of the fifth Yashim novel, while actually planning another plot altogether.

This our third year at Little Berwick, a hill away from the sea, and we are going for the full cornucopia. In the walled garden, where we inherited two vegetable plots, we have dug four more out of the lawn. Frost and rain, a little of both, have prepared the soil over the winter months and this weekend, trusting in the warmth of Spring, I planted four rows of broad – or fava – beans and two of an onion called Red Baron. Potatoes won’t do in the new plots for a few years yet – there’s too much eelworm under the old grass; and anyway, potato haulms aren’t beautiful. These new beds are going to be as good to look at as to eat. That’s how the Ottomans did their gardens, too, mixing vegetables with flowers.

Old beds and new

So what’s going in? Peas, of course, and shallots; leeks, cabbages and kale; yellow climbing beans – not standard runners, which set too hard and grow suddenly huge and stringy; squashes and courgettes, including the yellow sort; a dozen different sort of salad leaf, including rocket and radicchio, popping up at timely intervals between the rows; and last year’s artichokes, ready to soar this year, with their sculptural grey spikes and purple-greenish heads. I’d like a row or two of colourful chard, and spinach. Turnips for eating raw when they’re small, with a dab of cold butter; carrots for salads, and carrots for winter; beetroot – I’ve been sent a packet of white beetroot seeds by a lady who owns the late Patrick Leigh-Fermor’s bed, so I will sow those.

If I can get some glass up in time (Yashim permitting) I will dive into tomatoes and peppers and try an aubergine or two, and great pots of basil. Coriander, too – the Ottomans used much more in their cooking than the modern Turks.

Last year was superb for fruit – the old pears and apples against the walls did beautifully – but my Italian-sourced seeds were pretty poor, and the courgettes were miserable. This year I’m following with the genius loci and sticking to traditional, domestic seeds – but all ideas for Ottoman-inspired plants and vegetables would be very welcome!

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Quiz competition

The US edition of An Evil Eye, the latest Yashim adventure, comes out in paperback on February 28th. To mark the event, the first person to get the right answers to three questions wins two signed copies of An Evil Eye – one for them and one, maybe, for a friend! Everyone’s welcome to have a go, wherever they are in the world.

The questions are:

1. The Valide Sultan, the sultan’s mother and Yashim’s old friend, was born and raised a long way from the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Question is – where?

2. Stanislaw Palewski, the Polish ambassador, is lucky enough to have an adoring – and resourceful – housekeeper. What is her name?

3. And finally, Yashim cooks plenty of meals in the course of his investigations. Dishes like stuffed mussels, or tiny eggplants filled with spiced lamb, or vine leaves wrapped around aromatic rice, can be eaten as snacks, or meze, and have a generic name which indicates that they are stuffed. What are they called?

Just type your answers in the reply box below, and hit ‘Post Comment’. The winner will be chosen on March 1st.

Good luck!

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Yashim’s Kitchen III

I don’t know if you’re having turkey this year? Or a goose? We are going for guinea fowl because they are so tasty, with a duck for the crisp skin. I quite like turkey but it makes a greasy stock, and a good stock is what you want for this pilaf.

Mehmet the Conqueror’s Grand Vizier used to serve this as a working lunch in divan, the council meeting held on a Friday. Into it he tossed a gold chickpea for some lucky pasha to discover (or break a tooth on): the Ottoman version of putting a sixpence in the Christmas pudding, perhaps.

 

Ingredients:

Basmati rice

Chickpeas, soaked overnight and boiled for an hour (but tinned chickpeas are pretty handy, too)

An onion

butter, salt, festive stock

 

Rinse the rice in cold water until the water is clear – this is to remove the starch, which would make the rice too sticky. Leave it to soak while you melt the onions in butter. When they are soft, add the chickpeas.

Drain the rice, stir it into the pan and add enough stock to cover the rice and a little more.

When the stock has all been absorbed, check the rice; it should be a little nutty, but almost edible. If necessary add a little more stock until the rice is almost done.

Now comes the strange pilaf magic: cover the pan with a cloth and a lid. Over a whisper of heat, or none, let the rice steam for fifteen minutes.

Turn the rice out into a dish, helping to fluff it out with a fork.

This rice method sounds like complicated alchemy, but it’s simple really – and it works.

 

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Yashim’s Kitchen II – lamb kebab

Effortless and classic, these kebabs are best gently grilled over a throbbing mass of hot charcoal.

Ingredients

2 lbs boned shoulder of lamb, cut into inch cubes

2 onions

some garlic cloves, crushed

A small handful of cumin seeds

Salt

Pitta bread

Red onion, sliced

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Lemon wedges

 

Grate the onions into a colander set on a plate, sprinkle with salt, and leave to sweat for twenty minutes. Press the onions down with a spoon to extract all the juice, chuck the pulp and mix the juice with the garlic and the cumin seeds, roasted and crushed.

Stir in the lamb and marinade at room temperature for a few hours, then thread the meat onto skewers.

Sprinkle the pitta breads with water, and grill them on both sides for a minute.

Grill the meat for 2-3 minutes on each side.

Pop meat, onion and parsley into the bread, with a squeeze of lemon, and eat with both hands.

 

 

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Yashim’s kitchen I

Yashim, the protagonist of four novels in the award winning detective series set in 1830s Istanbul, is more than a sleuth – he’s also a great cook. In his apartment in Balat he prepares some of the dishes for which the Turks, with their long Ottoman heritage, are justly famous: not for nothing is Turkish cookery described as one of the three great cuisines of the world, along with French and Chinese.

Yashim loves cooking, which gives him time and space to think, and readers seem to love his recipes just as much. Like a turban glimpsed on the street, a draft of sweet coffee or the slender shadow of a minaret, Yashim’s dishes help to recreate the flavours of Istanbul – its abundance of seasonal vegetables, fresh fish drawn from the waters of the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmora, the ubiquitous soups and grilled lamb, the yoghurt and the spices that scent the air of the Egyptian Bazaar.

Each of the novels, beginning with The Janissary Tree, has figured several recipes perfected in the sultan’s kitchens – although the fish stew which appears in An Evil Eye, the latest in the series, is really a Greek fisherman’s feast, and the recipe for that – kakavia – can be found here on my blog.

Over the next few days I’ll be posting some new recipes for readers to try – maybe for some people they’ll suggest a break from turkey leftovers (I mean the bird, not the country)!

The quantities are not precise. As I wrote in Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire: ‘The French emperor Napoleon III and his empress, Eugenie, spent a week in Istanbul as the Sultan’s guests in 1862. The Empress was so taken with a concoction of aubergine puree and lamb that she asked for permission to send her own chef to the kitchens to study the recipe. The request was graciously granted by their host, and the chef duly set off with his scales and notebook. The Sultan’s cook slung him out, roaring, ‘An imperial chef cooks with his feelings, his eyes, and his nose!’

Be warned.

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