The Perfumed Sleeve
This is the ninth outing for the medieval Japanese detective and his intrepid wife, sort of a Macmillan and Wife or Hart to Hart for the historical mystery set. Seventeenth century Japan is already an old, rather decadent society that rivals our own in complexity.
Sano is carefully neutral among the factions around the weak Shogun, while wife Regan has her own problems, a backstabbing, and an envious pretend-friend. The confines of Bashido, the code of the Samurai, as well as the rigid rules for each group of society and the sexes, create additional conflict for this devoted couple. A retainer of one faction is murdered, with hints that he had been lured to another faction. The lurid details of the crime remind the reader that there really is nothing new under the sun. Sano can’t even examine the body without breaking the law, and his wife comes in more than handy because the households are closed to outsiders, so Regan volunteers to pose as a servant.
This is truly a whodunit on the order of Agatha Christie with red herrings, twists and a last surprise at the end, but I most like the detailed descriptions of this fascinating society and the tender, realistic relationships between these spouses. There is continuity between the books, and references are made to earlier occurrences, but it is not necessary to read them in order.