If you'd like to travel to the Japan of 1691 but don't have your own time machine, look no further than Laura Joh Rowland's book, THE SAMURAI'S WIFE.
The sights, sounds, and smells of ancient Japan are such a presence in Ms. Rowland's work that it is as if the country is another character. You can actually see a beautifully costumed samurai as he proudly rides his horse down the busy streets of Edo, now known as Tokyo.
But, THE SAMURAI'S WIFE is more than just a richly described travelogue, it is also a well-crafted mystery that keeps you guessing up until the end.
This book is the fifth one that features the Shogun's Most Honorable Investigator, Sano Ichiro. Recently married, Sano's wife Reiko becomes involved in this murder investigation as well.
The Shogun instructs Sano to leave the castle to solve the murder of a high powered Kyoto official. This case is especially mysterious, because Sano determines that the murderer possesses the secret of kiai, or "the spirit cry," a powerful scream that can kill instantly.
A further complication to Sano's investigation is the fact that Sano's nemesis, Chamberlain Yanagisawa has traveled to Kyoto to undermine Sano's efforts. Yanagisawa wants to discredit Sano in the Shogun's eyes and make himself even more powerful. To make matters worse, the senior police commander of Miyako, Yoriki Hoshina, becomes Yanagisawa's lover and joins in his plot to sabotage Sano.
The cast of suspects in this case includes Emperor Tomohito, his mother Lady Jokyoden, his consort Lady Asagao, and his crippled cousin Prince Momozono, the Right Minister Ichijo. Given that the Emperor is young and temperamental, Sano has his work cut out in trying to find the killer without angering the Emperor. Also a suspect is the victim's former wife, Kozeri, a nun who causes Sano to question his ability to be faithful to his new bride.
Sano has allowed Reiko to travel with him because he fears for her safety if she is left behind. But, Reiko soon tires of being left alone while Sano does his work, so she persuades him to allow her to question Lady Asagao while she is rehearsing a play. Reiko also questions Lady Jokyoden and admires the older woman's strength and power. When Sano and Reiko compare notes on their interviews, it seems as if all are guilty and all are innocent.
There is yet another level of intrigue to this fascinating story when it is discovered that there is a plot underfoot to overthrow the Shogun's government. Sano must wonder if the victim was killed because of his involvement in or knowledge of this plot.
In a great plot twist, especially for fans of Ms. Rowland's previous books, Sano and Yanagisawa are forced to work together to find the killer and save the Shogun's regime. Although Sano never feels as if he can absolutely trust Yanagisawa, the two work together successfully. But when Yanagisawa takes his lover Yoriki Hoshina back with him to the Shogun's castle, Sano is left to wonder if he will be encountering two friends or two enemies in future cases.
Reviewed by Michelle Calabro Hubbard on April 15, 2001