This is Rowland’s tenth installment in the stellar Sano Ichiro mystery series set in seventeenth-century Japan. Following an armed struggle, the shogun’s cousin Lord Matsudaira emerges victorious over the ambitious Lord Yanagisawa and has him exiled. He then elevates former Chief of Investigators Sano to Yanagisawa’s position as the shogun’s second-in-command. As Chamberlain, his official duties now keep Sano too busy to investigate cases with his beautiful, intelligent wife Reiko.
When newly-appointed government officials in Matsudaira’s regime start dying, Sano is under intense pressure to bend truth and finger Matsudaira’s enemies as the killers. Resisting as diplomatically as possible and enlisting the aid of the weak, vacillating shogun, Sano requests the aid of his trusted one-time lieutenant and current Chief Investigator, Hirata. Injured while protecting Sano and still in constant pain, Hirata nevertheless steps up to the mark and painstakingly begins to put clues together.
A startling picture begins to evolve, that of a master assassin who kills with his mere touch and whose next target may very well be Sano himself. Unknowingly, Reiko is paralleling the investigation of a young woman named Yugao, accused of her murdering her family in cold blood. Strangely, her clues also lead straight to the same samurai assassin. Can they identify and catch this killer before he plunges the entire regime into anarchy?
Once again Laura Joh Rowland captivates readers with a clever, compelling and convincing historical mystery as authentic as it is enthralling. This fast-paced tale utilizes dim-mak, an ancient martial art that causes death with precision touch, as the focal point of the whole investigation. The violence, abuse and brutality sprinkled throughout are effective in setting the era’s uneasy atmosphere, but this may not appeal to all.
The multi-faceted investigation, difficult mystery and ongoing suspense, while utterly intriguing on their own, take a backseat to the high-stakes politics and power struggle that continue behind the scene. Sano and Reiko’s hitherto loving marriage faces some problems as a consequence of Sano’s elevated new position, even as Hirata braves humiliation to serve his friend. A deadly villain adds the final, triumphant touch to another deeply satisfying addition to this ongoing series.