The Pillowbook of Lady Wisteria

Written by Laura Joh Rowland
Review by Elizabeth Garner

The Pillowbook of Lady Wisteria is the seventh in Rowland’s popular series of Japanese murder mysteries featuring samurai Sano Ichiro and his wife, Reiko. In this volume, the heir to the powerful shogun has just been murdered in a gruesome way while carousing in the Yoshiwara, the pleasure district. Sano, the shogun’s Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People, is charged with either finding the murderer or forfeiting his titles and wealth.

He soon discovers that the heir was last seen in the company of a beautiful courtesan, Lady Wisteria, an alluring woman whom Sano had had an affair with before he met Reiko. Now, Lady Wisteria has fled, taking only her pillowbook, which could reveal if she is involved or is herself a victim. Before the case is solved, Sano must deal with another murder and save his own life, while Reiko must escape a trap and try to rescue their little son.

Rowland’s knowledge of 17th century Japan is impressive, and her details bring the settings and society to life. However, her characters tend to be only two-dimensional, and some, such as the buffoon shogun, are not believable. A few of her plot twists are clever, but others strain credulity. All in all, a good try, but one of her weaker efforts.