Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Shogun's Daughter

Five months after the earthquake chronicled in The Incense Game, Yanigasawa has found a new way to usurp the Shogun's power.  He's convinced Tokugawa that he's the real father of Yanigasawa's illegitimate son Yoshisato and the Shogun has named the boy his heir.  Yanigasawa uses his new power to demote those unallied to him.  Chamberlain Sano becomes a magistrate in charge of rebuilding while his son Mashihiro ends up as an ordinary page.  With no official duty to investigate crimes, Sino can refuse when the Shogun's wife asks him to find out who killed her stepdaughter but Sano's sense of justice won't allow him to neglect Lady Nobukura's request

The Shogun's Daughter could not inherit on her own, but she could produce an heir. Her death from smallpox led to the succession crisis which allowed Yanigasawa to seize power.  Before Sano and his wife Lady Reiko can determine not only who murdered Tsuriheme - let alone whether she was murdered - he's arrested for the murder of Yoshisato.  There were far too many coincidences for a satisfying puzzle, but the suspense involved in the family's escape made up for that.  There's one one more book in Laura Joh Rowland's series, and I'll be sorry to reach the end.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Someone Always Knows

Marcia Muller invented the female PI sub-genre in 1977 with Edwin of the Iron Shoes.  Sharon McCone was a 28-year-old investigator for a legal co-op, solving crimes in a not-yet-gentrified San Francisco.  A few years later, Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski and Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone appeared.  The three godmothers of the female PI are still writing, but their characters have taken different paths.  Grafton decided to write backwards, only progressing the timeline a few months between books.  Approaching Y in the alphabet series, she's now writing historical.  That makes Kinsey's slower development make sense - she's still a solo operator doing some of the searches people can now do themselves on Google.  VI has only aged from her mid-30s to about 50 in 35 years, and is also still a solo operator but one who focuses on higher-level financial and legal work.  Her cases only involve murder when she takes on a case for personal reasons.

Sharon McCone has all been retconned a bit.  By the mid-80s, there were fewer references to Berkley in the 60s, and in 1999 she celebrated her 40th birthday 10 years too late.  Muller seemed to age her at half-speed for several books, but I'd put Sharon near 60 in Someone Always Knows.  Her business has progressed as well.  In the mid-90s, All Souls legal co-op dissolved and Sharon open her own agency.  It's grown, and Sharon's high profile essentially bars her from fieldwork. She's the executive director, delegating to over a dozen employees and doing analysis in her office and overseeing the merger of her business with that of her husband, Hy Ripinski.

That's what she's doing when Hy's former partner, the shady and assumed dead Gage Henshaw, walks into M&R Investigations.  Theoretically there to claim a share of the business, he's actually involved with a derelict property owned by a boorish developer and which Sharon's former neighbor wants to rehab.  Arson, murder, and a trip to Mexico follow.  The mystery plot had a few too many coincidences for my taste.  The novel, however, was more than just the plot.  Several of the later Mccone books focus on Sharon's family and this time her brother John and the old family hold have brought back memories and led both siblings towards new beginnings.  Sharon mentions several times that she's not ready for retirement and I wonder if those are the words of a 70-year-old author at the end of a contract.t  If so, I hope her publisher listens.  I think McCone has at least a few more cases in her, and I'd like to read them.

The Marriage Game

Elizabeth I started a small, bankrupt kingdom on the way to global empire, but that accomplishment is secondary to The Marriage Game.  She was the greatest marital prize of the mid-16th Century and played suitors off each other until she had aged out of the Game.  Alison Weir's novel looks mainly at the personal side of Elizabeth's political maneuvering and on the Queen's personal reasons for not marrying.

I've never believed the theory that the Virgin Queen wasn't.  By the time she was 16, Elizabeth had seen her mother executed and two stepmothers die in childbirth.  She'd also been subject to rumors and scandal regarding her relationship with Thomas Seymour, Katherine Parr's husband.  Today, we'd see their relationship as molestation but 470 years ago, it was attempted treason for him, near-ruin for her.  With childbirth such a risky undertaking and a family history linking sex and scandal, I doubt the calculating Queen would be willing to risk death to consummate a relationship.

Marriage would also deprive Elizabeth of her power.  Her sister Mary had been England's firsts undisputed Queen Regnant and her unsuccessful reign had not been helped by her marriage to Phillip of Spain.  As ruler of the country but a subject of her husband, a Queen married to a foreign prince had divided loyalties.  A Queen who married one of her subjects would exacerbate factions within the court.

The Marriage Game adds another complication.  Elizabeth was in love with Robert Dudley.  Both safe (because he was then married to Amy Rosbart) and dangerous (as the brother and son of traitors), she'd known him from their childhood in the Tower of London.  Weir uses their flirtatious, physical relationship as the background to the perpetual negotiations.  Shifting perspective between Elizabeth and Dudley, she portrays a complex relationship hindered by Elizabeth's vanity and position, and later by complacency and Dudley's desire for an heir of his own.  A partially requited love story with political undercurrents, The Marriage Game provides a view of Elizabeth as a person more than as a monarch.