Goodwin, Jason - 'The Bellini Card'
THE BELLINI CARD is the third book by Jason Goodwin in the Yashim the Eunuch series. Yashim is instructed by the young new Sultan Abdulmecid to travel to Venice and buy a portrait of Mehmet the Conqueror painted by Gentile Bellini in 1479. This is not a fictional portrait but actually is in the National Gallery in London. The vizier Reshid Pasha warns Yashim that perhaps this is not a wise course of action and Yashim compromises by sending his old friend the Polish ambassador Palewski. Palewski assumes a false identity as Signor Brett, an American connoisseur, and on his arrival is seized upon by Antonio Ruggiero an impoverished nobleman and 'friend of visitors to Venice'.
Ruggiero circulates Signor Brett's card to art dealers, and the 'American' attracts the attention of Carla a beautiful blonde contessa, Maria a young courtesan, and a variety of hustlers eager to supply 'genuine' art works. But two art dealers have been murdered and Brett is regarded as a suspect by the Austrian authorities that exist in a constant state of tension and conflict with the Venetian population. Fakery, treachery and innuendo are everywhere and as Brett gets deeper into trouble and is sought by the police, we wonder what has happened to Yashim?
I really enjoyed the book especially the first half which deals with Palewski /Brett and his naive search for the Mehmet the Conqueror painting. When Yashim makes his Holmesian intervention the plot became a trifle confusing for this reader. But this could be my lack of concentration and is only a very minor criticism. This book contains a feast of detail and anecdotes about the Ottomans and Venice, and among other things I learned the derivation and history of the word 'casino'.The intricate relationships between the Austrians, Venetians and Ottomans in a decaying but still beautiful city are complex and nothing is, as it first seems. Yashim cooks up some tempting Ottoman feasts (one example swordfish in vine leaf jackets) and the increased role of the character of Palewski in this book means that perhaps a new duo of detectives has arrived in the tradition of Holmes and Watson. This is top quality well written crime fiction set in a neglected period of history with fascinating characters and I look forward to seeing what new horizons await Yashim and Palewski.
The Yashim books are a labour of love and readers should view this YouTube video to fully appreciate Jason Goodwin's affection for his characters and the city of Istanbul. THE BELLINI CARD set in 1840 constantly refers to the similarity between Venice and the city on the Bosphorus.There is also a fascinating blog by Jason at: http://thebellinicard.wordpress.com/, which gives a lot of background information and links to other sources.
Read another review of THE BELLINI CARD.
Norman Price, England