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The Samurai's Wife
ISBN 0312974485 / 9780312974480 / 0-312-97448-5
Publisher St. Martin's Press
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Sano Ichiro, the Shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People, is back in action in Laura Joh Rowland's latest, The Samurai's Wife. After a heated dispute with his colleague and archrival, Honorable Chamberlain Yanigasawa, Sano finds himself in Miyako, Japan's imperial capital, investigating the mysterious death of Minister Konoe Bokuden. Apparently a victim of murder by kiai, a martial arts technique in which a burst of pure mental energy is concentrated in the voice of the killer, Konoe had been plotting an overthrow of samurai rule. Sano must determine whether his death is a personal or political matter, all the while tiptoeing around the delicate sensibilities and violent tempers of the Emperor and his Imperial Court. His roster of suspects ranges from the Emperor himself to Kozeri, Konoe's former wife, a Buddhist nun whose habit barely conceals a powerful and disturbing sensuality.
Rowland has obviously done her homework; her zest for historical detail complements, rather than overwhelms, the story, giving the reader a glimpse into the ceremoniality of 17th-century imperial Japanese culture: "In the southern sector of the imperial enclosure stood the Purple Dragon Hall.... The austere half-timbered building faced a courtyard bounded with covered corridors supported by vermilion posts. The ground was covered with white sand to reflect the light of the sun and moon onto the hall. A cherry tree and a citrus tree flanked the entrance, representing the guardian archers and horsemen of ancient tradition. Leading up to the door, eighteen steps, framed by red balustrades, symbolized the number of noble ranks in the court hierarchy. Sano and Hoshina slowly approached the bottom of the steps, where a line of courtiers waited."
Unfortunately, Rowland seems sometimes to sacrifice accuracy for the sake of action, creating a bond between Sano and his spirited wife Reiko so modern that one feels that even the most liberated Genroku woman would have been far more circumscribed by ritual and expectations. On the level of plot, rather than philosophy or politics, Sano's deductions have less to do with dogged investigation than with divine inspiration.
Laura Joh Rowland's previous Sano mysteries include The Concubine's Tattoo and The Way of the Traitor. Mystery fans intrigued by the notion of a Japanese mise en scène may be interested in Dale Furutani's Death at the Crossroads and Jade Palace Vendetta, also set in 17th-century Japan. --Kelly Flynn [via]