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Red Chrysanthemum, A Thriller by Laura Joh Rowland

April 7, 2007



Laura Joh Rowland is one of my favorite mystery authors; she always has a complex, absorbing plot, a cast of characters you can love or hate, and beautifully descriptive prose. But what really makes her books special is the historical accuracy and detail.

The year is 1698. After conquering warlords in most of the territory known today as
Japan, the Tokugawa government has established a strict administrative system that ensures social and economic stability.

In Red Chrysanthemum, the samurai detective Sano Ichirō has taken the place of his arch enemy Yanagisawa, and risen to the position of Chamberlain, second in command to the shogun. While Sano is overworked and facing his ever plotting enemies from all directions, his pregnant wife Reiko is found naked and bloody next to the murdered and mutilated corpse of Lord Mori, who was rumored to be planning to overthrow the ruling regime.

This is the eleventh in the series of the rise in political and cultural stature of the kimono draped hero, Sano. There is molestation and murder of young boys, plots to overthrow the shogun, voices of the dead speaking through a medium, and the reappearance of the dastardly ex-Chamberlain Yanagisawa. Not surprising, detective/samurai Hirata has moved into his mentor’s position of sōsakan-sama – Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People.

For the first time in their marriage, Sano questions the honesty of his wife Reiko. The always dutiful samurai, Hirata, is torn between his job and dedication to Sano, and his study of the mystic martial art of dim-mak. Amazed at her lack of memory about the event that found her with a murder weapon in her hand, the very pregnant Reiko wonders about the devotion to the shogun of her beloved husband.

As usual, Rowland has created an in depth, evocatively detailed picture of Japanese society in the seventeenth century. This book is shorter than the previous stories about Sano, character development relies quite a bit on the previous novels, and the dialogue is slightly less realistic. It is still an excellent read, however, and a captivating look at a violent and dangerous society that closed its doors on the rest of the world for many centuries.

One Comment leave one →
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