Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria (Sano Ichiro Series #7)

The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria (Sano Ichiro Series #7)

4.2 10
by Laura Joh Rowland

See All Formats & Editions

In the carefully ordered world of seventeenth-century Japan, the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter is a place where men of all classes can drink, revel, and enjoy the favors of beautiful courtesans. But on a cold winter's dawn, Sano Ichiro--the shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People--must visit Yoshiwara on a most unpleasant mission.


In the carefully ordered world of seventeenth-century Japan, the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter is a place where men of all classes can drink, revel, and enjoy the favors of beautiful courtesans. But on a cold winter's dawn, Sano Ichiro--the shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People--must visit Yoshiwara on a most unpleasant mission.

Within a house of assignation reserved for the wealthiest, most prominent men, a terrible murder has occurred. In a room that reeks of liquor and sex, the shogun's cousin and heir, Lord Mitsuyoshi, lies dead, a flowered hairpin embedded in his eye, in the bed of the famous courtesan, Lady Wisteria.

The shogun demands quick justice, but Sano's path is blocked by many obstacles, including the disappearance of Wisteria and her pillow book, a diary that may contain clues. The politics of court life, the whims of the shogun, and interference by his long time rival, Edo's Chief Police Commissioner Hoshina, also hinder Sano in his search for the killer. Sano's wife, Lady Reiko, is eager to help him, but he fears what she may uncover. When suspicion of murder falls upon Sano himself, he must find the real murderer to solve the case and clear his name.

In The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria, Laura Joh Rowland once again has written a book in which "an exotic setting, seventeenth-century Japan, and a splendid mystery...make for grand entertainment" (New York Daily News).

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rowland's 11th 17th-century Japanese historical (after 2005's The Assassin's Touch) is even more of a page-turner than its predecessors. Sano Ichiro has risen through the ranks from his position as the shogun's special investigator to the powerful station of chamberlain, but the shift in his duties has not shielded him from political opponents. He faces his greatest crisis yet when his terrified pregnant wife, Reiko, is discovered naked and blood-covered beside the corpse of a nobleman suspected of treason. Aided by his friend and successor, Hirata, the dogged and principled samurai sleuth must probe both personal and political motives for the crime, even as he entertains doubts about his beloved's innocence. Rowland matches her talent for storytelling with her ability to render convincing historical detail in this long-running but fresh series. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In brutal 17th-century Japan, Sano Ichiro (The Assassin's Touch), the shogun's chamberlain, faces his most deadly case when his pregnant wife, Reiko, is found naked and covered in blood beside the body of Lord Mori, the shogun's heir. Ichiro's enemies have long been after him, and now they just might be able to topple him from his high government post. Reiko, who has been acting independently as an investigator and protector of the weak, finds that she must go undercover to find why she is caught in this deadly situation. Like her previous books in the series, Rowland's latest is a gem of exquisite plotting and characterization. Fans who have read all the other entries may also want to check out I.J. Parker's historical mysteries (e.g., The Hell Screen) set in 11th-century Japan. Rowland lives in New Orleans. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 7/06.] Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A 17th-century Japanese sleuth must clear his pregnant wife of a murder charge. Tokyo, 1698. In the middle of the night, Most Honorable Investigator Hirata bursts into the grand estate of Lord Mori, recently at political odds with his cousin Lord Matsudaira. Hirata expects to bring the equivocal nobleman in for questioning on suspicion of treason. Instead, he finds Lord Mori brutally murdered and disemboweled next to Reiko, the pregnant wife of Hirata's master Sano, the chamberlain. Sano's position saves Reiko from immediate arrest and incarceration. Flashbacks give her side of the story: A young teahouse dancer named Lily has appealed to Reiko to help locate her abducted son. Lord Mori, a pedophile who regularly kidnaps boys for his sexual pleasure, is the culprit. (While not illegal, the practice is severely disapproved of and, if known, would ruin Lord Mori.) Reiko, who has become a trusted friend of Lord Mori and his dowdy wife in order to expose him, has no memory of his murder. The glamorous Lady Mori, far from the wallflower Reiko has described, tells a very different story, angrily accusing Reiko of having an affair with her husband and murdering him. As in Sano's previous cases (The Assassin's Touch, 2005, etc.), Reiko strikes out on her own to find answers, well aware that her life is at stake. Rowland's historical detail and graceful prose enhance another solid mystery. Agent: Pam Ahearn/Ahearn Agency Inc.
From the Publisher

“Like the big, sprawling novels of James Clavell, the Sano Ichiro mysteries are full of captivating detail, with lively characters and solid stories.” —Booklist

“Delicate prose and a plot full of the overtones and undercurrents that shade real life push Rowland's latest historical beyond the standard whodunit.” —Publishers Weekly

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Sano Ichiro Series , #7
Sold by:
Sales rank:
File size:
517 KB

Read an Excerpt

The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria

By Laura Joh Rowland

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2002 Laura Joh Rowland
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-0846-7


The summons came at dawn.

Edo Castle, reigning upon its hilltop above the city, raised its watchtowers and peaked roofs toward a sky like steel coated with ice. Inside the castle, two of the shogun's attendants and their soldiers sped on horseback between barracks surrounding the mansions where the high officials of the court resided. A chill, gusty wind flapped the soldiers' banners and tore the smoke from their lanterns. The party halted outside the gate of Sano Ichiro, the shogun's sosakan-sama — Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People.

Within his estate, Sano slept beneath mounded quilts. He dreamed he was at the Black Lotus Temple, scene of a crime he'd investigated three months ago. Deranged monks and nuns fought him and his troops; explosions boomed and fire raged. Yet even as Sano wielded his sword against phantoms of memory, his senses remained attuned to the real world and perceived the approach of an actual threat. He bolted awake in darkness, flung off the quilts, and sat up in the frigid air of his bedchamber.

Beside him, his wife, Reiko, stirred. "What is it?" she asked sleepily.

Then they heard, outside their door, the voice of Sano's chief retainer, Hirata: "Sosakan-sama, I'm sorry to disturb you, but the shogun's envoys are here on urgent business. They wish to see you at once."

Moments later, after hastily dressing, Sano was seated in the reception hall with the two envoys. A maid served bowls of tea. The senior envoy, a dignified samurai named Ota, said, "We bring news of a serious incident that requires your personal attention. His Excellency the Shogun's cousin, the Honorable Lord Matsudaira Mitsuyoshi, has died. As you are undoubtedly aware, he was not just kin to the shogun, but his probable successor."

The shogun had no sons as yet; therefore, a relative must be designated heir to his position as Japan's supreme dictator in case he died without issue. Sano had known that Mitsuyoshi — twenty-five years old and a favorite of the shogun — was a likely candidate.

Ota continued, "Mitsuyoshi-san spent yesterday evening in Yoshiwara." This was Edo's pleasure quarter, the only place in the city where prostitution was legal. Men from all classes of society went there to drink, revel, and enjoy the favors of the courtesans — women sold into prostitution by impoverished families, or sentenced to work in Yoshiwara as punishment for crimes. The quarter was located some distance from Edo, to safeguard public morals and respect propriety. "There he was stabbed to death."

Consternation struck Sano: This was serious indeed, for any attack on a member of the ruling Tokugawa clan constituted an attack on the regime, which was high treason. And the murder of someone so close to the shogun represented a crime of the most sensitive nature.

"May I ask what were the circumstances of the stabbing?" Sano said.

"The details are not known to us," said the younger envoy, a brawny captain of the shogun's bodyguards. "It is your responsibility to discover them. The shogun orders you to investigate the murder and apprehend the killer."

"I'll begin immediately." As Sano bowed to the envoys, duty settled upon his shoulders like a weight that he wasn't sure he could bear. Though detective work was his vocation and his spirit required the challenge of delivering killers to justice, he wasn't ready for another big case. The Black Lotus investigation had depleted him physically and mentally. He felt like an injured warrior heading into battle again before his wounds had healed. And he knew that this case had as serious a potential for disaster as had the Black Lotus.

A long, cold ride brought Sano, Hirata, and five men from Sano's detective corps to the pleasure quarter by mid-morning. Snowflakes drifted onto the tiled rooftops of Yoshiwara; its surrounding moat reflected the overcast sky. The cawing of crows above the fallow fields sounded shrilly metallic. Sano and his men dismounted outside the quarter's high wall that kept the revelry contained and the courtesans from escaping. Their breath puffed out in white clouds into the icy wind. They left the horses with a stable boy and strode across the bridge to the gate, which was painted bright red and barred shut. A noisy commotion greeted them.

"Let us out!" Inside the quarter, men had climbed the gate and thrust their heads between the thick wooden bars below the roof. "We want to go home!"

Outside the gate stood four Yoshiwara guards. One of them told the prisoners, "Nobody leaves. Police orders."

Loud protests arose; a furious pounding shook the gate's heavy wooden planks.

"So the police have beat us to the scene," Hirata said to Sano. An expression of concern crossed his youthful face.

Sano's heart plunged, for in spite of his high rank and position close to the shogun, he could expect hindrance, rather than cooperation, from Edo's police. "At least they've contained the people who were in Yoshiwara last night. That will save us the trouble of tracking down witnesses."

He approached the guards, who hastily bowed to him and his men. After introducing himself and announcing his purpose, Sano asked, "Where did Lord Mitsuyoshi die?"

"In the Owariya ageya," came the answer.

Yoshiwara was a world unto itself, Sano knew, with a unique protocol. Some five hundred courtesans ranked in a hierarchy of beauty, elegance, and price. The top- ranking women were known as tayu. A popular epithet for them was keisei — castle topplers — because their influence could ruin men and destroy kingdoms. Though all the prostitutes lived in brothels and most received clients there, the tayu entertained men in ageya, houses of assignation, used for that purpose but not as homes for the women. The Owariya was a prestigious ageya, reserved for the wealthiest, most prominent men.

"Open the gate and let us in," Sano ordered the guards.

They complied. Sano and his men entered the pleasure quarter, while the guards held back the pushing, shouting crowd inside. As Sano led his party down Nakanocho, the main avenue that bisected Yoshiwara, the wind buffeted unlit lanterns hanging from the eaves of the wooden buildings and stirred up an odor of urine. Teahouses were filled with sullen, disheveled men. Women peeked out through window bars, their painted faces avid. Nervous murmurs arose as Sano and his men passed, while Tokugawa troops patrolled Nakanocho and the six streets perpendicular to it.

The murder of the shogun's heir had put a temporary halt to the festivities that ordinarily never ended.

Sano turned onto Ageyacho, a street lined with the houses of assignation. These were attached buildings, their façades and balconies screened with wooden lattices. Servants loitered in the recessed doorways. Smoke from charcoal braziers swirled in the wind, mingling with the snowflakes. A group of samurai stood guard outside the Owariya, smoking tobacco pipes. Some wore the Tokugawa triple-hollyhock-leaf crest on their cloaks; others wore leggings and short kimonos and carried jitte — steel parrying wands, the weapon of the police force. They all fixed level gazes upon Sano.

"Guess who brought them here," Hirata murmured to Sano in a voice replete with ire.

As they reached the Owariya, the door slid open, and out stepped a tall, broad-shouldered samurai dressed in a sumptuous cloak of padded black silk. He was in his thirties, his bearing arrogant, his angular face strikingly handsome. When he saw Sano, his full, sensual mouth curved in a humorless smile.

"Greetings, Sosakan-sama," he said.

"Greetings, Honorable Chief Police Commissioner Hoshina," Sano said. As they exchanged bows, the air vibrated with their antagonism.

They'd first met in Miyako, the imperial capital, where Sano had gone to investigate the death of a court noble. Hoshina had been head of the local police, and pretended to assist Sano on the case — while conspiring against him with Chamberlain Yanagisawa, the shogun's powerful second-in-command. Yanagisawa and Hoshina had become lovers, and Yanagisawa had appointed Hoshina as Edo's Chief Police Commissioner.

"What brings you here?" Hoshina's tone implied that Sano was a trespasser in his territory.

"The shogun's orders," Sano said, accustomed to Hoshina's hostility. During their clash in Miyako, Sano had defeated Hoshina, who had never forgotten. "I've come to investigate the murder. Unless you've already found the killer?"

"No," Hoshina said with a reluctance that indicated how much he would like to say he had. Arms folded, he blocked the door of the ageya. "But you've traveled here for nothing, because I already have an investigation underway. Whatever you want to know, just ask me."

The Miyako case had resulted in a truce between Sano and Yanagisawa — formerly bitter enemies — but Hoshina refused to let matters lie, because he viewed Sano as a threat to his own rise in the bakufu, the military government that ruled Japan. Now, having settled into his new position and cultivated allies, Hoshina had begun his campaign against Sano. Their paths crossed often when Sano investigated crimes, and Hoshina always sought to prove himself the superior detective while undermining Sano. He conducted his own inquiries into Sano's cases, hoping to solve them first and take the credit. Obviously, Hoshina meant to extend their rivalry into this case, and there was little that Sano could do to stop him. Although Sano was a high official of the shogun, Hoshina had the favor of Chamberlain Yanagisawa, who controlled the shogun and virtually ruled Japan. Thus, Hoshina could treat Sano however he pleased, short of causing open warfare that would disturb their superiors.

"I prefer to see for myself." Speaking quietly but firmly, Sano held his adversary's gaze.

Hirata and his detectives clustered around him, as the police moved nearer Hoshina. The wind keened, and angry voices yelled curses somewhere in the quarter. Then Hoshina chuckled, as though his defiance against Sano had been a mere joke.

"As you wish," he said, and stepped away from the door.

But he followed Sano's party into the ageya. Beyond the entryway, which contained a guard stationed at a podium, a corridor extended between rooms separated by lattice and paper partitions. A lantern glowed in a luxurious front parlor. There sat two pretty courtesans, eight surly-looking samurai, several plainly dressed women who looked to be servants, and a squat older man in gray robes. All regarded Sano and Hirata with apprehension. The older man rose and hurried over to kneel at Sano's feet.

"Please allow me to introduce myself, master," he said, bowing low. "I am Eigoro, proprietor of the Owariya. Please let me say that nothing like this has ever happened here before." His body quaked with his terror that the shogun's sosakan-sama would blame him for the murder. "Please believe that no one in my establishment did this evil thing."

"No one is accusing you," Sano said, though everyone present in Yoshiwara at the time of the murder was a suspect until proven otherwise. "Show me where Lord Mitsuyoshi died."

"Certainly, master." The proprietor scrambled up.

Hoshina said, "You don't need him. I can show you."

Sano considered ordering Hoshina out of the house, then merely ignored him: Antagonizing Chamberlain Yanagisawa's mate was dangerous. But Sano must not rely on Hoshina for information, because Hoshina would surely misguide him.

Eyeing the group in the parlor, Sano addressed the proprietor: "Were they in the house last night?"

"Yes, master."

Sano ascertained that four of the samurai were Lord Mitsuyoshi's retainers, then glanced at Hirata and the detectives. They nodded and moved toward the parlor to question the retainers, courtesans, other clients, and servants. The proprietor led Sano upstairs, to a large chamber at the front of the house. Entering, Sano gleaned a quick impression of burning lanterns, lavish landscape murals, and a gilded screen, before his attention fixed upon the men in the room. Two soldiers were preparing to move a shrouded figure, which lay upon the futon, onto a litter. A samurai clad in ornate robes pawed through a pile of clothes on the tatami; another rummaged in a drawer of the wall cabinet. Sano recognized both as senior police commanders.

"Yoriki Hayashi -san. Yoriki Yamaga-san," he said, angered to find them and their troops disturbing the crime scene and ready to remove the body before he'd had a chance to examine either. "Stop that at once," he ordered all the men.

The police halted their actions and bowed stiffly, gazing at Sano with open dislike. Sano knew they would never forget that he'd been their colleague, nor cease resenting his promotion and doing him a bad turn whenever possible. He said sternly, "You will all leave now."

Hayashi and Yamaga exchanged glances with Chief Commissioner Hoshina, who stood in the doorway. Then Yamaga spoke to Sano: "I wish you the best of luck, Sosakan-sama, because you will surely need it." His voice exuded insolence. He and Hayashi and their men strode out of the room.

The proprietor shrank into a corner, while Hoshina watched Sano for a reaction. Sano saw little point in losing his temper, or in regretting that his old enemies now worked for his new one. He crouched beside the futon and drew back the white cloth that covered the corpse of Lord Mitsuyoshi.

The shogun's heir lay on his back, arms at his sides. The bronze satin robe he wore had fallen open to expose his naked, muscular torso, limp genitals, and extended legs. A looped topknot adorned the shaved crown of his head. From his left eye protruded a long, slender object that looked to be a woman's hair ornament — double-pronged, made of black lacquer, ending in a globe of flowers carved from cinnabar. Blood and slime had oozed around the embedded prongs and down Mitsuyoshi's cheek; droplets stained the mattress. The injured eyeball was cloudy and misshapen. The other eye seemed to stare at it, while Mitsuyoshi's mouth gaped in shock.

Sano winced at the gruesome sight; his stomach clenched as he made a closer observation of the body and recalled what he knew about the shogun's cousin. Handsome, dashing Mitsuyoshi might have one day ruled Japan, yet he'd had little interest in politics and much in the glamorous life. He'd excelled at combat, yet there was no sign that he'd struggled against his killer. A reek of liquor suggested that he'd been drunk and semiconscious when stabbed. Sano also detected the feral smell of sex.

"Who was the woman with him last night?" Sano asked the proprietor.

"A tayu named Lady Wisteria."

The name struck an unsettling chord in Sano. He had met Lady Wisteria during his first case, a double murder. One victim had been her friend, and she'd given Sano information to help him find the killer. Beautiful, exotic, and alluring, she'd also seduced him, and memory stirred physical sensations in Sano, even though four years had passed since he'd last seen her and he'd married the wife he passionately loved.

Hoshina narrowed his heavy-lidded eyes at Sano. "Do you know Wisteria?"

"I know of her." Sano wished to keep their acquaintance private, for various reasons. Now unease prevailed over nostalgia, because he had reason to know Wisteria had left Yoshiwara soon after they'd first met. He himself had secured her freedom, as compensation for wrongs she had suffered because she'd helped him. Afterward, he'd visited her a few times, but his life had grown so busy that he'd let the connection lapse. Later he'd heard that she had returned to the pleasure quarter, though he didn't know why. Now he was disturbed to learn that she was involved in this murder.

"Where is she now?" he said.

"She's vanished," Hoshina said. "No one seems to have seen her go or knows where she went."

Sano's first reaction was relief: He wouldn't have to see Wisteria, and the past could stay buried. His second reaction was dismay because an important witness — or suspect — was missing. Did her disappearance mean she'd stabbed Mitsuyoshi? Sano knew the dangers of partiality toward a suspect, yet didn't like to think that the woman he'd known could be a killer.

"Who was the last person to see Lady Wisteria and Lord Mitsuyoshi?" Sano asked the proprietor.

"That would be the yarite. Her name is Momoko." The man was babbling, overeager to please. "Shall I fetch her, master?"

A yarite was a female brothel employee, usually a former prostitute, who served as chaperone to the courtesans, teaching new girls the art of pleasing men and ensuring that her charges behaved properly. Her other duties included arranging appointments between tayu and their clients.


Excerpted from The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria by Laura Joh Rowland. Copyright © 2002 Laura Joh Rowland. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Laura Joh Rowland, the granddaughter of Chinese and Korean immigrants, was educated at the University of Michigan and now lives in New Orleans with her husband. The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria is the seventh in her widely acclaimed series featuring Sano Ichiro.

LAURA JOH ROWLAND is the author of the Sano Ichiro mysteries, which have twice been named Best Mysteries of the Year by Publishers Weekly. She lived through a natural disaster when Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed her house in New Orleans, and now lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria (Sano Ichiro Series #7) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Prior to reading Laura Joh Rowland I knew very little about any of the history of Japan. Besides a great story you learn of the workings of the Shogun rule, the common people and the politics. More then Icould have ever asked for, I thank her.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I chanced upon this new series for me and found a winner! Intelligent, well-thought out, detailed. The plot was well written and intense, filled with sincere intrigue and suspense. The author does a fine job of describing the ancient lifestyle of feudal Japan without compromising technique or patronizing the reader. Sano Ichiro has his work cut out for him in more than ways than one, more so than the gum shoes of later eras. Absolutely cannot wait to read all the others in the series. Excellent read!