The Samurai's Wife: A Novel (Sano Ichiro Novels)

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9781250035783: The Samurai's Wife: A Novel (Sano Ichiro Novels)

Sano Ichiro, the Shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People, has his doubts about the partnership that he and his spirited new wife, Reiko, have forged: While he can't help recognizing that her help on his cases can be invaluable, he sometimes longs for a more traditional wife. Still, when a botched case and the resulting loss of face send Sano to the Imperial city to find a killer whose methods are as terrifying as they are elusive, Sano needs the talents of his wife more than ever to inflitrate the emperor's inner circle. Rowland's series "positively smokes with historical atmospherics" (Publishers Weekly), and THE SAMURAI'S WIFE is her most intricate and compelling novel to date.

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Review:

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

From the Back Cover:

IN THE IMPERIAL CITY OF KYOTO, POWER IS MERELY CEREMONIAL. BUT AN ANCIENT EVIL STILL SURVIVES...

Far from the shogun's court at Edo, Most Honorable Investigator Sano Ichiro begins the most challenging case of his career. Upon the insistence of his strong-willed and beautiful wife Reiko, Sano arrives with her at the emperor's palace to unmask the murderer -- who possesses the secret of kiai, "the spirit cry", a powerful scream that can kill instantly. A high Kyoto official is the victim. Treading carefully through a web of spies, political intrigue, forbidden passions, and intricate plots, Sano and Reiko must struggle to stay ahead of the palace storms -- and outwit a cunning killer. But as they soon discover, solving the case means more than their survival. For if they fail, Japan could be consumed in the bloodiest war it has ever seen...

A legendary land comes alive in this compelling murder mystery set in seventeenth-century Japan. Filled with finely drawn characters and suspenseful plot twists, The Samurai's Wife is a novel as complex, vivid, and artful as the glorious, lost world it portrays.

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