Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Cloud Pavilion

Series authors sometimes get bored with their characters and decide to retire some of them and introduce replacements.  Fourteen books into her Sano Ichiro series, I think Laura Joh Rowland has reached that point.  Sano's fortunes have risen and fallen since he was plucked from the police force to serve Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, but The Cloud Pavilion feels like it's signaling a wider transition. 

A few years ago, I declared "the year of the subplot" - a comment on the number of (often poorly integrated) subplots the mystery series authors I read fell compelled to include.  Perhaps it was because their publishers required manuscripts of a certain length, but most of those novels would have benefited from either excising the subplot or adding 30 pages to better integrate them into the story.  In The Cloud Pavilion, Laura Joh Rowland gets it right.  

Several months after Yanigasawa's return from exile, Sano shares the position of Chamberlain with his old rival, warily expecting to be attacked when his uncle introduces himself.  Sano's mother's family had cast her off after a scandal; now, after his sister's rehabilitation, Major Kumazawa reluctantly asks his nephew for help.  Someone kidnapped Kumazawa's daughter Chiyo, and as Sano investigates he learns that a Buddhist nun and a gangster's teenage daughter have also disappeared under similar circumstances.  Sano finds the missing women and with the assistance of both his wife Reiko (who's better suited to questioning the emotionally and physically battered women) and his second-in-command Hirata, solves the thickly plotted but relatively straightforward crime.  He also uncovers Yanigasawa's plot with the help of an unexpected spy and manages to make peace with his estranged relatives, but at a social cost.  Because the ending ties the solution to the mystery and what I think is Rowland's new array of characters, I feel like I can't describe the latter without spoiling the former.  I'll just say that the political landscape of the Shogun's palace has become even more treacherous.

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