May 1695. During a horse race at Edo Castle the chief of the shogun's intelligence service, Ejima Senzaemon, drops dead as his horse gallops across the finish line—the fourth in a recent series of sudden deaths of high-ranking officials. Sano Ichiro is ordered to investigate, despite his recent promotion to chamberlain and his new duties as the shogun's second-in-command.
Meanwhile, Sano's wife, Reiko, is invited to attend the trial of Yugao, a beautiful young woman accused of stabbing her parents and sister to death. The woman has confessed, but the magistrate believes there is more to this case than meets the eye. He delays his verdict and asks Reiko to prove Yugao's guilt or innocence.
As their investigations continue, both Sano and Reiko come to realize that the man he is trying to hunt and the woman she is desperate to save are somehow connected. A single fingerprint on Ejima's temple puts Sano on the trail of an underground movement to overthrow the regime, and in the path of an assassin with a deadly touch.
"Elegantly told and interspersed with delicious bits of history" (Kirkus Reviews), Laura Joh Rowland's The Assassin's Touch is a mystery you won't want to miss.
At the start of Rowland's assured 10th historical set in 17th-century Japan (after 2004's The Perfumed Sleeve), Sano Ichiro, now the shogun's chamberlain and second-in-command, returns to his previous role of criminal investigator after the country's top spy, Ejima Senzaemon, drops dead on his mount during a horse race. Sano quickly finds that Senzaemon was just the latest senior official to die without warning. With the assistance of Hirata, his longtime assistant, the chamberlain uses his highly irregular sources to get on the trail of a martial-arts master using the legendary dim-mak, or touch of death. As always, the potential political ramifications of the crimes, which threaten the regime's precarious hold on power, add urgency to the inquiries, and failure risks not only Sano's status but his family's lives as well. While the significance of the subplot featuring Sano's wife, Reiko, may strike some as coincidental, the compelling story line, evocative detail and suspense should engage newcomers and satisfy longtime fans alike. At a point when many series show signs of wear, Rowland's characters remain fresh.