Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

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The Monday Lunchtime Review "Another Death In Edo": The Concubine's Tattoo

As readers of these reviews will have noted, I've become a great fan of Laura Joh Rowland's series of 17th century Japanese mysteries. There's a certain attraction for a regular reader of genre SF: an alien civilisation in contact with an outside world, a contact that is forcing change on a weak leader and a resistant establishment.

The Concubine's Tattoo is the fourth volume in the series, and one that takes us deeper into the heart of the Shogun's palace, and its convoluted politics. Sano Ichiro has just married Reiko, the only child of Magistrate Ueda, when the wedding ceremony is disturbed by the death of one of the Shogun's concubines. Poisoned by the ink she was using for an intimate tatoo, her violent death plunges the Most Honorable Investigator Sano into the morass of palace politics. As suspects and alibis mount up, Sano must try and find his way through to the truth, while at the same time come to an understanding with his tempestuous and independent young bride. Even if it means possible death for them both. As it is, Sano ends the volume with a set of allies who will aid him in his rivalry with the Shogun's chamberlain.

Another entertaining mystery, with interesting motives and complex characters. It's easy to spot who the murderer is, but the complexities of the case and its politics make it difficult for Sano to realise just what has happened. With the addition of Reiko, Rowland has expanded her regular cast. Whether the independent Reiko is a true reflection of her times, or authorial fiat with a twentieth century spin, is another question - but she remains an intriguing character. It will be interesting to see how Rowland develops Reiko over the next few volumes in the series.

A gripping mystery, with a dynamic climax. Well worth reading, and like the rest a story that will stand alone.
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