Riveting and richly imagined, with a magnificent sense of time and place, The Iris Fan is the triumphant conclusion to Laura Joh Rowland's brilliant series of thrillers set in feudal Japan.
Japan, 1709. The shogun is old and ailing. Amid the ever-treacherous intrigue in the court, Sano Ichiro has been demoted from chamberlain to a lowly patrol guard. His relationship with his wife Reiko is in tatters, and a bizarre new alliance between his two enemies Yanagisawa and Lord Ienobu has left him puzzled and wary. Sano's onetime friend Hirata is a reluctant conspirator in a plot against the ruling regime. Yet, Sano's dedication to the Way of the Warrior—the samurai code of honor—is undiminished.
Then a harrowing, almost inconceivable crime takes place. In his own palace, the shogun is stabbed with a fan made of painted silk with sharp-pointed iron ribs. Sano is restored to the rank of chief investigator to find the culprit. This is the most significant, and most dangerous, investigation of his career. If the shogun's heir is displeased, he will have Sano and his family put to death without waiting for the shogun's permission, then worry about the consequences later. And Sano has enemies of his own, as well as unexpected allies. As the previously unimaginable death of the shogun seems ever more possible, Sano finds himself at the center of warring forces that threaten not only his own family but Japan itself.
Rowland's 18th and final mystery set in feudal Japan showcases the series' strengths and weaknesses. In 1709, four years after the events of 2013's The Shogun's Daughter, Sano Ichiro is grappling with the repercussions of yet another reversal of fortunes. Sano's refusal to abandon his pursuit of the truth behind the death of the aging shogun's daughter, Yoshihato, has cost him dearly. In particular, his choice to view Lord Ienobu, the ruler's nephew and heir, as responsible for Yoshihato's death has led to another demotion. Once having held the post of chamberlain, the shogun's first minister, he is reduced to a lowly patrol guard. When an attempt is made on the shogun's life, Sano gets a chance to redeem himself. The prominent place of the supernatural in the plot, more so than in other recent entries, will unsettle fans of traditional detecting. Still, Rowland offers the usual high-stakes suspense, convincing period detail, and nuanced characters you care about. Readers will be sorry to see the last of Sano.
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The Iris Fan
This series will be profoundly missed.