Black Lotus

Written by Laura Joh Rowland
Review by Suzanne Crane

Rowland’s latest novel of 17th century Japan will not disappoint her readers. Samurai detective Sano Ichiro’s newest case plunges him and his assistant, wife Reiko, into a world of religious deceit and political intrigue that will also test their bonds of love.

Arson on the Black Lotus sect’s temple grounds unsuccessfully covers up the murder of three people, one a highly placed police magistrate. With the only witness a young orphan girl, Sano agrees to see if Reiko can get her to talk. But there is political pressure on Sano to convict the girl and close the case despite Reiko’s belief in her innocence.

As with her previous novels, Rowland superbly portrays life in feudal Japan. The rigid societal structure is tested in the course of Reiko’s investigation and the danger to Sano’s honor is keenly felt. Buddhist temple life and religious fervor are beautifully described. The Black Lotus sect — with members and patrons ranging from the highest to lowest born – is a microcosm of feudal Japanese society, full of political intrigue and power mongering. Rowland’s talent is wide-ranging: to imbue her characters with powerful traits, to plot suspense beautifully and to entertain while teaching.