A richly crafted novel set in seventeenth-century Japan, Laura Joh Rowland's The Concubine's Tattoo unfolds with all the excitement of a superb murder mystery and a sweeping, sensuous portrait of an exotic land. Sano Ichiro, the Shogun's most honorable investigator, is summoned to the imperial palace to find the murderer of Harume, a young concubine poisoned while applying a lover's tattoo. Sano's new bride, Reiko, insists on helping him with the case. Reiko's samurai blood and warrior's skill alarm her new husband, who expected a docile wife. But Reiko is only the first of many surprises...
As subtle as the finest lacquered screen, as powerful as the slash of a sword, The Concubine's Tattoo vividly brings to life a story of murder, jealousy, sexual intrigue, and political storms that keeps us under its spell until the final, shattering scene.
Rowland once again delivers a mystery laden with details of period and place, with strong portrayals of palace intrigue in 17th-century Japan. Sano Ichiro has risen to the rank of Most Honorable Investigator for the shogun in 1690 Japan. As his fourth adventure (after 1997's The Way of the Traitor) begins, he is marrying the beautiful Lady Ueda Reiko. The wedding is interrupted by the sudden death of Hamune, one of the shogun's concubines, the victim of poisoned ink that Hamune used to give herself an intimate tattoo. Sano's investigation requires extraordinary skill and care, for failure in a case involving the shogun's household could mean his death. Suspects include Yanagisawa, Sano's bitter rival for the shogun's favor; a young officer who loved Harume; and other concubines who had much to lose as Harume gained the shogun's affections. Meanwhile, Reiko rebels against the submissive role of Japanese wife and insists on helping in the investigation. The book suffers, as Rowland's previous novels have, from a common hazard of historical mysteries: the pace is weighed down by the very details with which the author so painstakingly bedecks her narrative. Even so, Rowland's understanding of the society she depicts shines through, and she succeeds in presenting Sano as an intriguing combination of wiliness and decency, making this a good bet for fans of historicals as well as of mysteries past.