Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

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The Monday Morning "It's Sunny Out, And I'm In The Office" Review - Shinju

Shinju is the first of Laura Joh Rowland's shogunate mysteries. Samurai Sano Ichiro is a yoriki, recenty appointed to the Edo police as fulfilment of a debt to his father. Still longing for the academic life, he seizes the chance to investigate a mysterious shinju, a double love suicide - against the wishes of his master, the Magistrate of Edo. The deaths of a painter of erotic images and a daimyo's daughter are an intellectual challenge, one that will quickly put Sano in danger, not only of losing his life, but also his family's honour.

As Sano delves deeper into the mystery, he finds himself struggling against the webs of patronage that bind the hierarchy of Edo together. From the lowest peasant in the pleasure district, to the highest daimyo, the complex nature of life in the crowded city ties everyone to their roles. But rebellion is in the air, and Sano's investigation finds him skirting the fine line between family loyalty and fealty. As the death toll mounts, Sano must make the choice between obeying his superiors and justice. It's a path that will lead him to great risks, and great glories.

While Rowland delivers us a formulaic thriller, with choreographed twists and turns, she manages to put us in the head of what to many westerners will be an alien being, a shogunate era samurai. It's hard to believe that Shinju is a first novel. the story is gripping (if you suspend disbelief in some of the coincidences Sano stumbles upon), the characters are well drawn, and the conflict between duty and justice gives the story an edge that many genre novels lack.
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