Historical periods and historical crime fiction
The first chapter takes clever advantage of the tension in historical crime fiction between the need to portray a historical period and that to tell a story. Goodwin does this through something like a cinematic jump cut, alternating between narrating a crime and painting word pictures of Istanbul.
The Istanbul is that of 1838, a perhaps unprepossessing date in that city's long and celebrated history. Why 1838 when Goodwin could have chosen the fourth, sixth, fifteenth, seventeenth or any number of other celebrated centuries in Constantinople/Istanbul's past? I asked Goodwin that question at Bouchercon in Baltimore, and, if I recall correctly, he said he chose the period because it let him portray the Ottoman Empire in decline.
Expanding on his remark, I'd say that if Goodwin really wanted melodrama, he could have set his stories at the very end of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of World War I. Without knowing much about Ottoman history, though, I'd say the nineteenth century let him choose a period when the empire had declined from greatness but could still maintain the outward air of grandeur. The dramatic possibilities this offers are reflected especially in the character of Palewski, the Polish ambassador and friend to the protagonist Yashim, one of the most endearing sidekicks in all of crime fiction.
So much for 183os Istanbul. What are your favorite periods and settings for historical crime fiction? And why?
© Peter Rozovsky 2009