November 1694. The streets of Edo are erupting in violence as two factions struggle for control over the ruling Tokugawa regime. One is led by the shogun's cousin, Lord Matsudaira, and the other by the shogun's second-in-command, Chamberlain Yanagisawa. Each side pressures Sano Ichiro, the shogun's most honorable investigator, to join its ranks.
When one of the shogun's most trusted advisers is found dead, Sano is forced to honor a posthumous request for a murder investigation. Senior Elder Makino believed that his death would be the result of assassination rather than natural causes. Although he and Sano were bitter enemies, Makino knew that the incorruptible Sano would be duty-bound to oblige his final wish.
Under the watchful eyes and thinly veiled threats of both Lord Matsudaira and Chamberlain Yanagisawa, Sano moves with caution. Each is eager to implicate the other in Makino's death. Sano must discover whether the death was indeed murder, and if so, whether it was motivated by politics, love, or sex. The discovery of secret alliances, both romantic and military, further complicates matters. Sano's investigation has barely begun when violent death claims another of the shogun's favorites.
With his wife, Reiko, working undercover, Sano and his chief retainer, Hirata, must not only investigate multiple deaths, but stem the tide of an impending civil war, in Laura Joh Rowland's The Perfumed Sleeve.
In Rowland's ninth absorbing historical set in 17th-century Japan (after 2003's The Dragon King's Palace), Sano Ichiro, the shogun's special criminal investigator, must once again navigate treacherous political waters to solve a puzzling murder. Sano finds himself retained by a corpse when the valet of one of the country's leading figures, councilman Makino Narisada, delivers a posthumous request from his master. Narisada asks Sano to examine the circumstances of his own death. At first it seems that the elderly official succumbed to natural causes, but several clues point to foul play. While the initial suspects from the victim's household all appear to be harboring guilty knowledge, the detective's task is rapidly complicated when the two leading political rivals battling to succeed the shogun accuse each other of the murder and pressure Sano to slant his pursuit accordingly. The shadow of events from The Dragon King's Palace hangs heavily over the two main supporting characters, Sano's wife and his chief assistant, driving them to take perilous risks; nonetheless, this is an accessible entry point to the series for newcomers. Deftly combining a classic whodunit with vivid period detail, Rowland raises the stakes for her next book with an unexpected twist at the end that promises to present her dogged but fallible hero with even more difficulties in the future.
Have read every book in the series now and each has captivated me with the details that had you there living in the book. Shame it has ended but enjoyed it from the first page to the last one.
Best One So Far
I've been making my way through this series, and I enjoyed The Perfumed Sleeve very much. I loved the setting of the climax on a kabuki stage!