Saturday, October 15, 2016


I am reposting Jason Goodwin's announcement of his Yashim cookbook. I have pre-ordered my copy. I recommend that readers consider it as a magnificennt Holiday--or any time--present.


Dear Yashimite (if I may),

Last week we took delivery of the first copies of Yashim Cooks Istanbul, the book designed to take you deeper into the world of Yashim's Ottoman adventures. I'm writing because you have enjoyed the novels, from The Janissary Tree to The Baklava Club, and might wish to hear more about this unique celebration of 19thcentury Istanbul’s leading gourmet sleuth.

Following Yashim’s adventures in his kitchen, Yashim Cooks Istanbul contains all sorts of easy, traditional recipes from the Ottoman capital and its hinterlands. There are simple and delicious family dishes like a Greek fisherman’s stew, pumpkin soup or eggplant chicken wraps, alongside more unusual recipes for feasts, from stuffed mackerel, to hazelnut and lemon pilaf, or fish poached in paper.
There are lots of recipes for vegetarians and pescatarians, interwoven with illustrations, photos and descriptions which evoke the world of 19th century Istanbul, including extracts from the novels which you may enjoy.
Those of you who kindly volunteered to test one will find the finished recipe here, along with your name in the acknowledgements, because the book could not have happened without your thoughtful input.
My favourite combination of recipe and extract is The Assassin’s Steak Tartare, a classic recipe accompanied by the passage in which Yashim struggles with a Tartar assassin at the window of a Venetian palazzo...

The book has a distinctive cover, appropriate for the themes of crime, cooking and Istanbul, but also rather suitable for Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving. It’s a beautiful hardback with 224 colour pages and an index to the extracts and recipes. You might find a signed copy would make a good Christmas present!


Yashim Cooks Istanbul goes on sale in the bookshops and bookstores on October 27th in the UK, and November 15th in the USA. If you have already ordered your copy or copies, thank you: they’ll be sent out to you right away. If you’d still like to order an early copy or two, signed and free of postage charges, you can do so here.
If any of your friends would be interested, please share this email with them - and do get in touch if you think of anyone I ought to contact. It is, after all, a small world.
best wishes,

Copyright © 2016 Jason Goodwin, All rights reserved.

Friday, July 1, 2016


Click on the link to read the compelling first chapter of Daniel Silva's new novel, THE BLACK WIDOW. The book will be out on 12 July 2016. Mark your calendars. This promises to be an amazing read.

Daniel's Silva's new novel

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


If I boil down my list of what makes a good book, I am left with the following: clear, precise language, a well-designed plot, a memorable sense of place, engaging characters. Alan Furst’s A HERO OF FRANCE meets these standards. It is a story of French Resistance agents who help downed British pilots to return to Britain. That the salient characters are ordinary people whose bravery is devoid of hubris makes their story all the more touching. Presented with the choice of joining les colabos who aid and abet the Nazis, Mathieu, aristocratic Annemarie, elegant Chantal, bar owner Jules, a few others prefer to risk their lives in order to liberate their country.
Furst tells the story of these heroes without adding any unnecessary frills. He writes in crisply precise language that is as elegant in its apparent simplicity a glass of the best French wine. Dive into this book and, as it happens when you sip good French wine, a rich complexity is your reward. The reminders that France is, for the moment, a conquered country are present in streetlamps painted blue, in the sounds of police patrol, in the reek of old uniforms in the flea market, at the smell of putrefying on the floor of a boucherie chevaline, in the smell of coffee made with chicory, and nuts, in the way tired Parisians shift from foot to foot as they wait in longer and longer lines. But expect no tugging at your heartstrings. Furst is above that. He builds characters who do what they must because that is the right thing. There is no dithering, no hesitation, no hand wringing. Who would not love to meet such people? I found them all so real, so  decent I feel honored to have met them, if only  in print.

Ex-tank commander Mathieu, who leads a Resistance cell, is no D’Artagnan. His story does not call for flourishes. He is a patriot without speeches, without slogans. If he thinks, briefly, about what he has had to give up in order to lead his group of Resistants, he does not s indulge in self-pity. There is a point, where Furst flashes his amazing understanding of French character, “He’s French—not so much afraid of dying as afraid of doing wrong.” That makes me  think of knights, paladins, of D’Artagnan minus the braggadocio. This is the kind of person needed to defeat monsters. This the kind of person who returns to an everyday metier--skip the political office. On his war work is done, he goes on with his life. Please note the implied  emphasis on the word life, for this is at the heart of Furst’s writing. This is a book about difficult choices and difficult times. But ultimately, it is praise  song to life. This is the reason its characters leap off the page and stay with you long after you closed the book. The ability to write such a book is the mark of a master.

Friday, March 11, 2016


THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR begins gently, the way good stories and good music do. Its opening paragraph situates young doctor Hugh Grange, one of its main characters, in the lovely English landscape, “The town of Rye rose from the flat marshes like an island, its tumbled pyramids of red-tiled roofs glowing in the slanting evening light.” Such an introduction is at odds with rules designed to confine contemporary fiction to a straight jacket dreamt up by academics with too much leisure and not much imagination. According to these rules, contemporary readers must be hit between the eyes with an opening sentence that dazzles them to the point of disorientation. Place and time are  vague. Readers must  work for entertainment. Sentences must be short, adjectives and adverbs must vanish and nouns that have the vaguest etymological association with Latin are forbidden. Passive voice is taboo and so the gerund. Hemingway’s clipped journalistic style trumps Dickens and Trollope's.
Fortunately, Simonson rises above such silly directives. She renders the town of Rye and people as  timeless and universal. There is a special alchemy in that. There is magic firmly rooted in British literary tradition. Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austen, had the gift to tell stories that transcend time and place. So does Simonson. Her characters range from those burdened with the prejudices of their place to those ho can break free from parochial morality and outdated conventions. Well-traveled, well educated, forward thinking Beatrice Nash, is one of the latter. Eager to escape the humiliating confines of the aristocratic household of a domineering relative, she accepts a teaching job at Rye. There she meets Hugh Grange, who has been tutoring underprivileged boys while he spends his summer vacation at the home of his aunt Agatha Kent. She also meets Hugh’s cousin, poet Daniel Bookham, an effete poet who is the perfect foil for the level headed young doctor. The three become Beatrice’s friends and supporters.
Beatrice moves into Mrs. Turber’s house, a woman of Dickensian narrow mindedness. In time, she meets the local social leaders, the wannabe social leaders, and the local outcasts, personified by a Roma family. Add Belgian war refugees to that mix and the sweet Sussex summer acquires an entirely different flavor. This is a change that Simonson handles with exquisite deftness. What seems,  at first, no more than a good read in the style of Barbara Pym, deepens into a study of social conditions and their effect on the life of minorities—the Roma—and the powerless—women. But this is done without preachy condescension. As the story moves from tense peacetime to war, Simonson’s theme darkens. Effete Daniel’s sexuality comes into question, solicitor Poot, another Dickensian character, reveals his ambitions, a newly arrived couple of writers hits Rye’s brick wall of prudery, Agatha Kent discovers the limits of her tolerance. The Roma boy for whom Beatrice has such hopes  learns that the scholarly life to which he aspires is barred to him. A Belgian refugee whose beauty initially gains her the approval of townspeople soon confronts a crisis that nearly turns her into an outcast.
ut these are nothing but the bones of the story. The real thing is richer and far more enjoyable. It is well constructed and enlightening though it never attempts to bludgeon  the reader. Rather, it relies on unaffected simplicity.  This is superior writing by a gifted author. It is a work I want to keep close  as I keep those of Dickens and Trollope. It is work to which I will return after I recover from having my heart wrung by sadness of the awful war that sundered Hugh, his cousin, and so many Sussex boys from their golden landscape where, in summer, “...the bluffs were a massive unbroken line of shadow from east to west, the fields breathed out the heat of the day, and the sea was a slate silk dress.”
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