By Laura Joh Rowland
Setting & details: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Authenticity of Japanese characters & dialogue: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Translation quality: N/A
Entertainment value: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
My recommendation: A well-researched and deeply entertaining crime read, set in samurai-era Japan
Who hasn’t wondered what it would have been like to live in a more chivalrous era, when warriors kept order with the world’s sharpest swords, and honor was a way of life? If you love a good mystery set in the heart of samurai Japan, this first book in the Sano Ichirō series will set your heart a-gallop.
As the shōgun’s personal investigator, Sano Ichirō is assigned to look into crimes too delicate to entrust to the rank and file police. He not only has to use his wits to figure out whodunnit, he has to do it while navigating the devilishly tricky layers of privilege and obligation that exist to protect the powerful. In this first book of the series, Sano is given the mundane task of doing the paperwork for a star-crossed lovers’ double suicide. He soon discovers discrepancies, however, that make him believe it’s not suicide, it’s murder. The problem is, nobody he works for wants this murder to be revealed, much less solved, so his job is made infinitely harder by having to figure out why.
What’s especially enjoyable about this book is that it drops us straight into the intricate and treacherous structure of bakufu Japan. Riding along with Sano, we encounter unexpected dead ends based on politeness, failure to secure the right introduction, and other aspects of Japanese society that still, amazingly enough, exist today.
Well-researched historical mysteries like this one truly bring a period to life, and you won’t find a better guide to the highest levels of Japanese court life and the lowest corners of the red light district than Sano Ichirō.
And you know the next best thing about the Sano Ichirō mysteries? There are eighteen of them!
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Reviews of more Japan-centric books are in the JAPANAGRAM ARCHIVE
The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon
“An immersive page-turner, meticulously researched and perfectly plotted. Without question, the best book I have read all year.” —Susan Spann, author of the Hiro Hattori mysteries and CLIMB