Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"The Bellini Card"

Jason Goodwin's Edgar Award–winning series--The Janissary Tree, The Snake Stone, and now The Bellini Card--is set in Istanbul at the end of the Ottoman Empire and features Investigator Yashim: detective, polyglot, chef, eunuch.

Goodwin applied the Page 69 Test to the new novel and reported the following:
Bah! Smack after a chapter that delves into the life and mind of a sinister fraudster, page 69 of The Bellini Card merely cuts to an invitation. It’s a scene-setter – but what a scene!

I keep to short chapters: it’s a trick I learned from pulp fiction. It keeps things moving smartly along – and, as my optician pointed out, it means she can read a chapter or two on the train or bus to work, then close the book. We’re very film-savvy: these days we appreciate cut-aways and rapid scene changes as we read.

So here we are in Venice, at the beginning of chapter 24, and the Contessa d’Apsi d’Istria sends a footman over to invite Palewski to coffee.

Palewski? Readers of The Janissary Tree and The Snake Stone will know that Yashim’s firmest friend is the Polish ambassador in Istanbul. Now Yashim has deputed him to undertake a search for a long-lost painting by the Venetian artist Gentile Bellini. Yashim stays in Istanbul while Palewski travels to Venice, masquerading as an American art dealer. It isn’t giving too much away to say that Yashim does have to come to Venice himself, eventually.

The Contessa is a Venetian aristocrat through and through, as we learn on page 69. Her palazzo ‘contained a great deal of martial trompe l’oeil decoration, a ceiling by Tiepolo and, beyond the grand piano nobile apartments where the Contessa entertained, barely a stick of furniture.’

And that is what made The Bellini Card such fun to write. Venice is so well-known, in film and books, that it’s a challenge to find a new way of seeing it: but back in 1840 it was seedy and poor, neither the proud Republic of former days, not the tourist Mecca of our age. It survived by flogging off its treasures to visiting lords. Palewski gets fastened on by a host of art hustlers. Some, I’m afraid, don’t make it through to the end of the book.

Is the Contessa – proud, beautiful and a dab hand at fencing with a foil - among them?

The footman led Palewski up the stairs into a small vestibule decorated with frescoes of cupids pouring cornucopias of fruit into the laps of languid women.

‘I shall inform the Contessa of your arrival, signore.’

He was forestalled by the arrival of the Contessa herself, flinging back the door.

So ends page 69, on an appropriate cliff-hanger.
Preview The Bellini Card, and learn more about Jason Goodwin and his work at his website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Snake Stone.

My Book, The Movie: The Snake Stone.

--Marshal Zeringue