Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Snow Empress

I'm not sure what Laura Joh Rowland has in mind for her characters.  Three books ago, she promoted Sano Ichiro to Chamberlain, where he spends less time investigating and more time watching his back in the political shark tank of the Tokagawa Shogunate.  This leaves Lady Reiko fewer chances to act as an unofficial detective and his former assistant, Hirata, as the Shogun's chief investigator.  Hirata, however, was injured, and as part of his training to recover has become quite mystical.  All these changes are believable in the framework of the series, and while I'm not sure where Rowland is taking them, I'm enjoying the journey.

The Snow Empress focuses on a journey to the northern reaches of Japan.  Lord Matsudaira has kidnapped Sano's and Reiko's son Masahiro, causing Reiko to withdraw within her sorrow.  Matsudaira has hidden Masahiro in Ezogashima, where Lord Matsudaira sends Sano to find out why the local lord has not made his required annual trip to Edo.  Once the party arrives, they discover that Lord Matsumae has had a mental breakdown following the murder of his native mistress, Tekare.  As Reiko searches for her son, Sano and Hirata try to solve Tekare's murder, a task complicated by how different she appeared to everyone who knew her.  (Yes, I know this review is begging for a Rashomon reference, but I've never seen that movie, so I'll refrain.)  Logic, legwork, a bit of Hirata's new-found mysticism, and Lord Matsumae's rage avenge Tekare's death, allowing Sano to return to the familiar but uncertain environment of the Shogun's court.

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