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The Concubine's Tattoo

A book by Laura Joh Rowland

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Historical mystery can cause samurai night fever

  • Feb 3, 1999
The Tokugawa shogunate in the 17th century has been a setting for a number of memorable works: the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, Eiji Yoshikawa's epic novel "Mushashi," and James Clavell's "Shogun."

It's also the setting for this series of four novels by Laura Joh Rowland featuring Sano Ichiro, the most honorable investigator to the shogun.

When the shogun's favorite concubine is found poisoned, the discovery interrupts Sano's wedding feast as well as unleash a host of concerns. Was the killing an attempt to keep the shogun from begetting an heir? Will someone use the crime as a pretext for getting a rival out of the way?

Sano has good reason to be doubly concerned about the case: failure to find the culprit could mean a visit to the execution ground for himself, his assistant and his family.

Sano is also distracted by his bride, who is as spirited and unconventional as a 17th-century Katharine Hepburn. Their journey toward accommodation and compromise form a major part of the book.

One word of warning: many forms of copulation show up in "The Concubine's Tattoo," and its explicitness may prove unsettling to regular readers of the genre.

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About the reviewer
Bill Peschel ()
Ranked #476
Bill Peschel was born in 1960 in Ohio, and grew up there and in North Carolina. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. in journalism. At The Avalon Hill Game Company … more
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Rowland once again delivers a mystery laden with details of period and place, with strong portrayals of palace intrigue in 17th-century Japan. Sano Ichiro has risen to the rank of Most Honorable Investigator for the shogun in 1690 Japan. As his fourth adventure (after 1997's The Way of the Traitor) begins, he is marrying the beautiful Lady Ueda Reiko. The wedding is interrupted by the sudden death of Hamune, one of the shogun's concubines, the victim of poisoned ink that Hamune used to give herself an intimate tattoo. Sano's investigation requires extraordinary skill and care, for failure in a case involving the shogun's household could mean his death. Suspects include Yanagisawa, Sano's bitter rival for the shogun's favor; a young officer who loved Harume; and other concubines who had much to lose as Harume gained the shogun's affections. Meanwhile, Reiko rebels against the submissive role of Japanese wife and insists on helping in the investigation. The book suffers, as Rowland's previous novels have, from a common hazard of historical mysteries: the pace is weighed down by the very details with which the author so painstakingly bedecks her narrative. Even so, Rowland's understanding of the society she depicts shines through, and she succeeds in presenting Sano as an intriguing combination of wiliness and decency, making this a good bet for fans of historicals as well as of mysteries past.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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ISBN-10: 0312192525
ISBN-13: 978-0312192525
Author: Laura Joh Rowland
Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
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