The Fire Kimono

Written by Laura Joh Rowland
Review by Audrey Braver

Tokyo, March, 1700: a storm uproots a huge tree near a Shinto shrine, nearly injuring an elderly priest and uncovering a royal corpse. The corpse is identified as the Shogun’s cousin, Tadatoshi, who disappeared during the great fire that destroyed one-fifth of Tokyo in 1657. It appears that Tadatoshi did not die as a result of the fire. There is evidence that he was murdered.

The Shogun orders Ichiro Sano, a former detective who has risen to become Chamberlain, to find his cousin’s murderer. Meanwhile, Sano has been enduring attacks on his person, his wife, and his household, all apparently the work of his archenemy, Lord Matsudaira – who, coincidentally or not, has been enduring similar attacks that he believes are the work of Sano. This ongoing feud impedes Sano’s efforts in the investigation of Tadatoshi’s death. While Sano is dealing with his problems, an ex-lover of his mother accuses her of Tadatoshi’s murder. Sano’s mother is arrested and sentenced to death. The indecisive Shogun grants Sano a few days to prove his mother’s innocence.

Ms. Rowland has written another exciting mystery. She has a knack for weaving together historical facts into the tapestry of her plot, which both educates and entertains the reader. This fast-paced story is not easy to put down, and it has a surprise ending.