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Shinju (Sano Ichiro Series #1)

Shinju (Sano Ichiro Series #1)

3.8 26
by Laura Joh Rowland

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When beautiful, wealthy Yukiko and low-born artist Noriyoshi are found drowned together in a shinju, or ritual double suicide, everyone believes the culprit was forbidden love. Everyone but newly appointed yoriki Sano Ichiro.

Despite the official verdict and warnings from his superiors, the shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events,


When beautiful, wealthy Yukiko and low-born artist Noriyoshi are found drowned together in a shinju, or ritual double suicide, everyone believes the culprit was forbidden love. Everyone but newly appointed yoriki Sano Ichiro.

Despite the official verdict and warnings from his superiors, the shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People suspects the deaths weren't just a tragedy -- they were murder. Risking his family's good name and his own life, Sano will search for a killer across every level of society -- determined to find answers to a mystery no one wants solved. No one but Sano...

As subtle and beautiful as the culture it evokes, Shinju vividly re-creates a world of ornate tearooms and guady pleasure-palaces, cloistered mountaintop convents and dealthy prisons.
Part love story, part myster, Shinju is a tour that will dazzle and entertain all who enter its world.

BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from Laura Joh Rowland's The Shogun's Daughter.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Seventeenth-century Tokyo is the setting for Rowland's debut novel, a murder mystery starring the Senior Police Commander in the district of Edo. Sano Ichiro, a samurai whose academic background puts him at odds with most of his peers, discovers two bodies in the Sumida River, a man and woman bound together in what appears to have been a shinju, or ``double love suicide.'' The man is a peasant, the woman the high-born daughter of an important official. Told by his superior to close the case without an investigation, Sano, suspecting murder, determines to investigate on his own. He orders an illegal autopsy and learns that the victims did not drown but cannot make his discovery known. Amidst many tribulations, he uncovers a trail of corruption and intrigue that ultimately leads him to suspect a member of a royal family. Replete with convincing details, the setting's time and place provide lively and diverting passages; the plot, however, twists only occasionally before its fairly predictable, politically rooted resolution. Rowland crafts a competent mystery her first time out, shows sure command of her background material and demonstrates that she is a writer of depth and potential. (Oct.)
Library Journal
As a newly appointed yoriki (senior police commander), Sano Ichiro is expected to obey his superior's order to treat the deaths of an upper-class woman and a commoner as a shinju (ritual double suicide). Sano believes the two were murdered and doggedly continues to investigate, risking his job and his life. He gradually uncovers a plot against the shogun himself. The best part of this first novel is the splendid evocation of late 17th-century Edo. The descriptions of the stratified society, the details of everyday life, and the sights and sounds of the city that will later become Tokyo are vivid and compelling. Readers intrigued with unusual settings for their mysteries will enjoy this work. Others may not be able to ignore the paper-thin characterizations and the coincidence-strewn plot. The last paragraph leaves an opening for a sequel. Only large pop fiction collections need consider. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/94.]-Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle
School Library Journal
YA-Sano Ichiro suspects that a ritual love suicide (shinju) is in reality a double murder, but his boss inexplicably orders him to drop the investigation. As samurai, Sano must obey or dishonor his father. The quest for justice, however, impels him to risk all to uncover the truth. His course causes more deaths and reveals the depravity of a powerful family that plots to assassinate the shogun. Sano is an unlikely, headstrong hero whose talk and stumbling actions endanger others. His repeated weighing of the samurai code of loyalty and duty versus the pursuit of justice slows the plot occasionally, but not seriously. The descriptions of the lives of townspeople, samurai, the privileged class, and inhabitants of the ``pleasure district'' in 17th-century Edo (Tokyo) are brutal, but rich and sensual, especially the Tea Ceremony and New Year celebrations. YAs who liked James Clavell's Shogun will enjoy Rowland's novel of political intrigue.-Judy Sokoll, Fairfax County Public Library, VA

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sano Ichiro Series , #1
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Random House
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3 MB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Yoriki Sano Ichiro, Edo's newest senior police commander, made his way slowly on horseback across Nihonbashi Bridge. Early on this sunny, clear winter morning, throngs of people streamed around him: porters carrying baskets of vegetables to and from market; water vendors with buckets suspended from poles on their shoulders; shoppers and tradesmen bent low under the packages on their backs. The planks thundered with the steps of wood-soled feet; the air was bright with shouts, laughter, and chatter. Even the hallmarks of Sano's samurai status couldn't speed his passage. His mount, a bay mare, merely raised him above the bobbing heads. The two swords he wore — one a long, curved saber, the other a shorter dirk — elicited no more than an occasional mumbled "A thousand pardons, honorable master."

But Sano enjoyed his leisurely progress, and his freedom. He'd escaped from the tedium that had marked his first month as a yoriki. A former tutor and history scholar, he'd quickly found the administration of his small section of the police department far less satisfying than teaching young boys and studying ancient texts. He missed his old profession; the thought of never again chasing down a lost or obscure fact left a sad, empty ache at the center of his spirit. Still, although family circumstances and connections, rather than choice or talent, had thrown him into the unfamiliar world of law enforcement, he'd sworn to make the best of the situation. Today he had decided to explore his new domain more fully than he could by sitting in his office and affixing his seal to his staff'sreports. Exhilarated, he peered over the bridge's railings at the panorama of Edo.

The wide canal, lined with whitewashed warehouses, was jammed with barges and fishing boats. Smoke from countless charcoal braziers and stoves formed a haze over the low tiled and thatched rooftops that extended over the plain in all directions. Through it he could see Edo Castle perched on its hill at the end of the canal. There Ieyasu, first of the Tokugawa shoguns, had established the seat of his military dictatorship seventy-four years ago, fifteen years after defeating his rival warlords in the Battle of Sekigahara. The upturned eaves of the keep's many roofs made it look like a pyramid of white birds ready to take flight: a fitting symbol of the peace that had followed that battle, the longest peace Japan had known in five centuries. Beyond the castle, the western hills were a soft shadow, only slightly less blue than the sky. Mount Fuji's distant snow-capped cone rose above them. Temple bells tolled faintly, adding to the panoply of sounds.

At the foot of the bridge, Sano passed the noisy, malodorous fish market. He edged his horse through the narrow winding streets of Nihonbashi, the peasants' and merchants' quarter named after the bridge. In the open wooden storefronts of one street, sake sellers bartered with their customers. Around the next corner, men labored over steaming vats in a row of dyer's shops. Mud and refuse squished under the horses' hooves and pedestrians' shoes. Sano turned another corner.

And emerged into a vast open space where last night's fire had leveled three entire blocks. The charred remains of perhaps fifty houses — ash, blackened rafters and beams, soaked debris, fallen roof tiles — littered the ground. The bitter smell of burnt cypress wood hung in the air. Forlorn residents picked their way through the mess, hunting for salvageable items.

"Aiiya," an old woman keened "My home, all my things, gone! Oh, what will I do?" Others took up her cry.

Sano sighed and shook his head. Thirty-two years ago — two years before his birth — the Great Fire had destroyed most of the city and taken a hundred thousand lives. And still the "blossoms of Edo," as the fires were known, bloomed almost every week among the wooden buildings where a strong wind could quickly fan a single spark into a ferocious blaze. From their rickety wooden towers high above the rooftops, the firewatchers rang bells at the first sight of a flame. Edo's citizens slept uneasily, listening for the alarm. Most fires were accidents caused by innocent mistakes such as a lamp placed too near a paper screen, but arson wasn't uncommon.

He'd come to learn whether this fire had resulted from arson. But one look at the ruins told him he could not expect to find evidence. He would have to rely on witnesses' stories. Dismounting, he approached a man who was dragging an iron chest from the rubble.

"Did you see the fire start?" he called.

He never heard the answer. Just then, running footsaps and cries of "Stop, stop!" sounded behind him. Sano turned. A thin man dressed in rags streaked past, panting and sobbing. A pack of ruffians brandishing clubs stampeded after him. The man's bare feet slipped in the mud, and he went sprawling about ten paces from Sano. Immediately the pursuers set upon their quarry, clubs flailing.

"You'll die for this, you miserable animal!" one of them shouted.

The ragged man's sobs turned to screams of pain and terror as he threw up his arms to shield his head from the blows.

Sano hurried over and grabbed the arm of one of the attackers. "Stop, you'll kill him! What do you think you're doing?"

"Who's asking?"

At the sound of the gruff voice beside him, Sano turned. A burly man with small, mean eyes stood at his elbow. He wore a short kimono over cotton leggings; his cropped hair and the single short sword fastened at the waist of his gray cloak marked him as a samurai of low rank. Then Sano caught sight of the object in the man's right hand, a strong steel wand with two curved prongs above the hiltfor catching the blade of an attacker's sword.

Meet the Author

Laura Joh Rowland is a detective/mystery author best known for her series of historical mystery novels set in the late days of feudal Japan, mostly in Edo during the late 17th century. Her protagonist is Sano Ichiro, a samurai and minor official who, by the end of the first novel, became the trusted chief investigator for the fifth Tokugawa Shogun, and by the tenth novel, was promoted to a very high office. She began the series in 1994 with the book Shinju ; the series now includes more than a dozen books.

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Shinju (Sano Ichiro Series #1) 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book just blew me away! It was one of the best books on Japan that I have ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not only a great plot, but also the main character is very powerful and interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written, but I was totally unimpressed with the protagonist's warrior skills. Somehow I expected a samurai to be less physically inept.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel seems to be backed up by sound research of the times and characters. An easy, enjoyable read. I hope the sequel comes up to scratch.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cant wait to read the others
Cylix More than 1 year ago
It's ok
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this book. It was a good read and a good introduction to Japanese culture. I will definitely get the second book.
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ccBree More than 1 year ago
It was recommended to me by a work colleague, basid on my love of all kinds of books he thought it would be a good meld of different characters and themes from what I typically read. It is C. Chanesk, I enjoyed the thrill of the ride from the beginning to the end. The detective doing the work, and the constant road blocks, and the unfathomable reaction to his action by his father. You learn about the behind the scenes stuff that really mirror our english society/politics as well.
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Nightwing More than 1 year ago
The plot and the characters keep you griped to the book the whole way through to the very end. It's a must have for anyone's Library.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I am not normally a fan of murder mysteries, but I read this book and was blown away! I absolutely adore Laura Joh Rowland's books! If you ever want a great mystery, read this series!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's no Shogun.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed learning about the ancient culture while solving a murder mystery. Still a good read. (I only wish the author would have explained more to us folks who have not read Shogun.)