The Samurai’s Wife

Written by Laura Joh Rowland
Review by Rachel A Hyde

Normally the most absorbing aspect of even a historical whodunit is the plot, but in Rowland’s superb Sano and Reiko series her spellbindingly exotic descriptions of 17th century Japan are every bit as interesting as her teasing plots.

In this fifth outing for Sano he is sent to the Imperial City of Miyako to investigate the murder of Left Minister Konoe who has just met his end in a terrible and extraordinary way. Konoe was the victim of kiai, the “spirit cry” which some samurai are supposed to be able to master as a lethal weapon – but surely this is just a myth? Since the Shogunate has ruled Japan the emperor and his family live as prisoners in their city, preserving the culture of a thousand years before. There is the spoiled sixteen-year-old emperor, his ambitious mother, frivolous consort and disabled cousin all bored and penned up in their opulent prison – but who has the power to kill with a scream? Meanwhile Chamberlin Yanagisawa is not far behind plotting death and destruction while Reiko is determined to join Sano in his investigations and go where samurais are less likely to be welcome – the women’s quarters.

Most people reading this story are not familiar with 17th century Japan, and it would be all too easy to adopt a didactic style and lose the reader by skimping on plot and imparting too much information. Rowland never does this, though, and the result is a thrilling tale set in a splendidly authentic and well-realised milieu.

Honorable Sano, intrepid, brave Reiko, and scheming Yanagisawa are a formidable trio to equal any in crime fiction – a samurai Holmes, Watson and Moriarty? No – something more original than that. Great to see somebody breaking away from familiar settings and trying something different.