The Samurai's Wife (Sano Ichiro Series #5)by Laura Joh Rowland
Sano Ichiro, the Shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People, has his doubts about the partnership that he and his spirited new wife, Reiko, have forged: While he can't help recognizing that her help on his cases can be invaluable, he sometimes longs for a more traditional wife. Still, when a botched case and the resulting loss of
Sano Ichiro, the Shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People, has his doubts about the partnership that he and his spirited new wife, Reiko, have forged: While he can't help recognizing that her help on his cases can be invaluable, he sometimes longs for a more traditional wife. Still, when a botched case and the resulting loss of face send Sano to the Imperial city to find a killer whose methods are as terrifying as they are elusive, Sano needs the talents of his wife more than ever to inflitrate the emperor's inner circle. Rowland's series "positively smokes with historical atmospherics" (Publishers Weekly), and THE SAMURAI'S WIFE is her most intricate and compelling novel to date.
"As a fan of Shogun, it's easy to say that The Samurai's Wife provided me with the same sense of place and culture that was so invigorating in James Clavell's epic yarn...Rowland's a pretty terrific storyteller."Chicago Tribune
Read an Excerpt
From the attic of a shop in Edo’s Nihonbashi merchant district, Sano Ichiro, the shogun’s sôsakan-sama—Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People—conducted a secret surveillance. He and his chief retainer, Hirata, peered through the window blinds. Below them lay Tobacco Lane, a street of tobacco shops and warehouses, restaurants and teahouses. As the summer twilight deepened, the peaked roofs turned to dark silhouettes against a rosy sky. Tobacco Lane, recently bustling with daytime commerce, was now a corridor of blank facades, its storefronts hidden behind sliding doors. Lanterns burned over gates at either end of the block. Across the city echoed the usual evening music of dogs barking, horses’ neighs, the clatter of night-soil carts, and tolling temple bells. The only sign of activity came from the Good Fortune Noodle Restaurant, a tiny establishment wedged between two shops across the street. Lamplight striped its barred window. Smoke wafted from the kitchen.
“Dinner’s long past,” Sano said, “but I smell fish cooking over there.”
Hirata nodded. “She’s definitely expecting someone.”
“Let’s just hope it’s our man,” Sano said.
Nearby, Sano’s wife, Reiko, stood amid bales of fragrant tobacco. Her pastel summer robes glowed in the faint light from the window and open skylight. Twenty-one years old, with eyes like bright black flower petals and long, lustrous hair worn in a knot, she was small and slender. Since their marriage last autumn, Sano had defied convention by permitting Reiko to help with his cases. Even though both of them knew that a proper wife should be waiting for him at home, he’d learned that Reiko could question witnesses and uncover evidence in places where a male detective couldn’t go. Now here to witness the climax of this investigation, Reiko joined Sano and Hirata at the window. She tensed, listening, her lovely, delicate oval face alert.
“I hear someone coming,” she said.
In the street below, an old man shuffled into view, leaning on a cane. The lantern at the gate illuminated his straggly white hair; a tattered kimono hung on his stooped body.
“That’s the Lion of the Kanto?” Surprise lifted Reiko’s voice. The notorious crime lord ruled a band of gangsters who ran gambling dens, robbed travelers, operated illegal brothels, and extorted money from merchants throughout the Kant?, the region surrounding Edo. “I expected someone more impressive.”
“The Lion travels in disguise,” Sano reminded her. “Few people know what he really looks like. That’s one way he’s managed to evade capture for so long.”
His other methods included bribing police to ignore his activities, killing his enemies, and keeping on the move. Attempts by Sano’s detective corps to infiltrate the gang had failed, and their informants had refused to talk. Hence, Reiko had used her special communication network, composed of wives, relatives, servants, and other women associated with powerful samurai clans. They collected gossip, spread news and rumors. From them Reiko learned that the Lion had a mistress—a widow who ran the Good Fortune Noodle Restaurant. During a month’s surveillance, Sano’s detectives had observed that men of different descriptions regularly visited after the restaurant closed. Guessing that these were all the Lion in various disguises, Sano had planned an ambush and taken over this shop as his headquarters.
Now he said to Reiko, “If that old man is the Lion and we catch him, we’ll have you to thank.”
Sano felt excitement and anxiety surging through him. While he yearned to end the Lion’s reign of crime, he was worried about Reiko. He wished she were safe at home, though what possible harm could come to her from merely watching through the window?
Up a curve in the road, another watcher peered out a different window, this one in a half-timbered mansion with a tile roof and high earthen wall. From his position in the lamplit second-floor parlor, Chamberlain Yanagisawa had a perfect view of Tobacco Lane, the Good Fortune Noodle Restaurant, and the shop where Sano and his comrades hid. Over silk robes he wore an armor tunic; a golden-horned helmet framed his handsome face. Inhaling on a long silver pipe, he savored the rise of anticipation. He turned to his chief retainer, Aisu, who squatted on the tatami floor nearby.
“Are you sure they’re in there?” Yanagisawa asked.
“Oh, yes, Honorable Chamberlain.” A slender man several years older than Yanagisawa’s own age of thirty-three, Aisu had tensely coiled grace and hooded eyes that gave him a deceptive look of perpetual drowsiness. His voice was a sibilant drawl. “I climbed on the roof and saw Sano, his wife, and Hirata through the skylight. Six detectives are in the shop below. The side window is open.” Aisu grinned. “Oh, yes, it’s the perfect setup. A brilliant plan, Honorable Chamberlain.”
“Any sign of the Lion yet?”
Aisu shook his head.
“Is everything ready?” Yanagisawa asked.
“Oh, yes.” Aisu patted the lumpy cloth sack that lay on a table beside him.
“Timing is critical,” Yanagisawa reminded him. “Have you given the men their orders?”
“Oh, yes. Everyone’s in place.”
“How fortunate that I managed to learn about Sano’s plans in time to prepare.” A smug smile curved Yanagisawa’s mouth.
Today he’d received a message from his spy in Sano’s household, describing the ambush. Yanagisawa had quickly organized his own scheme, commandeering the mansion of a rich tobacco merchant for a lookout station. If he succeeded, he would soon see his rival destroyed. The misfortunes of the past would end.
Since his youth, Yanagisawa had been the shogun’s lover, influencing the weak Tokugawa Tsunayoshi and winning his post as second-in-command. As the ruler of Japan in all but name, Yanagisawa had virtually absolute power. Then Sano, the upstart scholar, martial arts teacher, son of a rōnin—masterless samurai—and former police commander, had been promoted to the position of sôsakan-sama. The shogun had developed a high regard for Sano, who now commanded a staff of one hundred detectives and had gained influence over the bakufu, Japan’s military government. Yanagisawa faced opposition from Sano whenever he proposed policies to Tokugawa Tsunayoshi and the Council of Elders; they sometimes took Sano’s advice instead of his own. Sano’s daring exploits overshadowed Yanagisawa’s own importance, making him crave the adventure of detective work. And those exploits often meant serious trouble for him.
A case of double murder had led to Sano’s discovery of a plot against the Tokugawa regime; he’d saved the shogun’s life and won a post at Edo Castle. During his investigation of the Bundori Murders, when a madman had terrorized Edo with a series of grisly killings, Yanagisawa had been taken hostage by the murderer and nearly killed. Last year he’d exiled Sano to Nagasaki, but Sano had returned a hero. The final outrage had come when Sano, while investigating the poisoning of the shogun’s concubine, had caused the death of Yanagisawa’s lover.
Now Yanagisawa couldn’t stand the sight of Sano and Reiko’s happiness together. Tonight he would be rid of them. There’d be no more competition for the shogun’s favor; no more humiliation. And as a bonus, he would steal Sano’s reputation as a great detective.
A movement in the street outside caught Yanagisawa’s eye. The foreshortened figure of an old man with a cane passed beneath the window. Yanagisawa beckoned Aisu, who glided swiftly to his side. They watched as the old man approached the noodle restaurant.
“Go!” Yanagisawa ordered.
“Oh, yes, Honorable Chamberlain.” Aisu snatched up the cloth bundle and vanished without a sound.
Reiko said, “Look! He’s stopping.”
The old man beat his cane on the restaurant’s door. It opened, and he disappeared inside.
“Let’s go,” Sano said to Hirata, then told Reiko, “We’ll be back soon.”
Her face shone with excitement. “I’m going with you!” She pushed up her sleeve, revealing the dagger strapped to her arm.
Consternation halted Sano. The problem with their partnership was that Reiko always wanted to do more than he could allow; to go places where a respectable woman could not be seen, risking social censure and her own life for the sake of their work. Always, Sano’s desire for her assistance vied with his need to protect her. Sympathizing with Reiko’s desire for adventure didn’t ease his fear that their unusual marriage would provoke scandal and disgrace.
“I can’t let you,” he said. “You promised you would just watch if I let you come.”
Reiko began to protest, then subsided in unhappy resignation: Promises between them were sacred, and she wouldn’t break her word.
Sano and Hirata bounded down the staircase. In the dim shop, six detectives, waiting by the tobacco bins, sprang to attention. “The Lion is inside,” Sano said. “We’ll surround the place, and—”
From above the ceiling came a clatter, as though something had hit the floor upstairs, then the whump of a muffled explosion, followed by a scream.
“What was that?” Hirata said.
“Reiko!” Sano’s heart seized. He turned to run back upstairs.
A fist-sized object flew in through the window. It landed in front of Sano and erupted in a cloud of smoke. Sulfurous fumes engulfed the shop. Coughs spasmed Sano’s chest; his eyes burned. Through the dense haze, he heard the men coughing and thrashing around. Someone yelled, “A bomb!”
“This way out,” Hirata cried.
Sano heard Reiko calling from the attic, but he couldn’t even see the stairway. “Reiko!” he yelled. “Don’t come down here. Go to the window!”
He rushed outside and saw Reiko climbing down a wooden pillar from the balcony. More smoke billowed out the window and skylight. Gasping and wheezing, Sano reached up and grabbed Reiko, who fell into his arms. Coughs wracked her body. From a nearby firewatch tower came the clang of a bell. Carrying his wife, Sano staggered down the street, where the air was fresh and a crowd had gathered. The fire brigade, dressed in leather tunics and helmets, arrived with buckets of water.
“Don’t go in there!” Sano shouted. “Poison fumes!”
The crowd exclaimed. The fire brigade broke down the shop doors and hurled water inside. Sano and Reiko collapsed together on the ground. The detectives joined them, while Hirata stumbled over to the Good Fortune. He went inside, then returned. “There’s no one in there. The Lion has escaped.”
Sano cursed under his breath, then turned to Reiko. “Are you all right?”
Sudden shouts and pounding hoofbeats scattered the crowd.
“I’m fine.” Coughing and retching, Reiko pointed. “Look!”
Up the street ran the man who’d entered the Good Fortune, no longer stooped and white-haired but upright and bald. The torn kimono flapped open, exposing muscular arms, chest, and legs blue with tattoos—the mark of a gangster. Mounted troops wearing the Tokugawa triple-hollyhock crest galloped after him. His face, with the broad nose and snarling mouth that had earned him his nickname, was wild with terror.
“It’s the Lion!” Hirata exclaimed.
Sano stared as more soldiers charged from the opposite direction. “Where did they come from?”
The leader, clad in armor, slashed out with his lance. It knocked the Lion flat, just a short distance from Sano. Instantly soldiers surrounded the Lion. Leaping off their horses, they seized him and tied his wrists.
“You’re under arrest,” the leader shouted.
Sano recognized his voice at once. Shock jolted him. “Chamberlain Yanagisawa!”
The chamberlain dismounted. Removing his helmet, he triumphantly surveyed the scene. Then his gaze fell upon Sano and Reiko. Dismay erased his smile. He stalked away, calling to his troops: “Take my prisoner to Edo Jail!”
In Sano’s mansion in the Edo Castle Official Quarter, Sano, Reiko, and Hirata sat in the parlor, drinking medicinal tea to cleanse the poison from their systems. The sliding doors stood open to admit fresh air from the garden. Sano could still taste the acrid fumes on his breath. His head ached violently, and he knew they were lucky to be alive.
“This has gone on long enough,” he said in a voice taut with fury. “Yanagisawa has been after me ever since I came to the castle.” During the Bundori Murders case, Yanagisawa had sent a spy to give Sano false leads, and almost ruined a trap he’d set for the killer. “He’s tried again and again to assassinate me.” Sano had narrowly escaped death by attacks from Yanagisawa’s henchmen. “When we were investigating the murder of Lady Harume last fall, his scheming almost destroyed me, but I’m the one he blames for Shichisabur?’s death, which was his own fault. He’s tried everything possible to get rid of me, including banishment.” In Nagasaki, Sano had become embroiled in a politically sensitive case involving the murder of a Dutch trader and was almost convicted of treason.
“I’ve tolerated his evils for two years because I had no choice,” Sano continued. According to Bushido—the Way of the Warrior—any criticism of the shogun’s second-in-command implied criticism of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi himself. Any attack on Yanagisawa translated into an attack on the lord to whom Sano had sworn allegiance: blasphemy! Therefore, Sano had refrained from speaking out against Yanagisawa. “But he’s gone too far by attacking Reiko.”
“So you’re sure the chamberlain is responsible for the bombing,” Hirata said.
Sano nodded grimly. “His arrival on the scene was too coincidental, and he wasn’t surprised to find us there—he was disappointed to see us alive. He must have somehow discovered our plans, then taken advantage of the situation.”
A servant entered the room, knelt, and bowed. “Please excuse the interruption, master, but the shogun wants to see you right away.”
“What does His Excellency want?” Sano asked.
“The messenger didn’t say, except that it’s urgent.”
“At any rate, I have urgent business with him, too.” Rising, Sano saw concern on the faces of his wife and retainer.
“You’re planning to tell the shogun about Yanagisawa?” Hirata said.
“I can’t fight off his plots forever; he’ll get me eventually,” Sano said. “It’s time for open warfare.”
“The chamberlain will deny everything you say,” Reiko said. “He’ll hate you even more for reporting him to the shogun. It might only make things worse.”
“I’ll just have to take that chance,” Sano said, “because they won’t get better by themselves.”
He left the house and walked uphill through walled passages and security checkpoints to the shogun’s palace. Inside, guards admitted him to the formal audience chamber, a long room lit by metal lanterns suspended from the ceiling. All the windows and doors were shut, the heat and smoky atmosphere stifling. On the dais sat the shogun, dressed in dark robes and cylindrical black cap. Attendants awaited orders. In the place of honor at the shogun’s right, on the upper of two descending levels of the floor, knelt Chamberlain Yanagisawa. Both men silently watched Sano approach them. The shogun’s mild, aristocratic face wore a pensive frown. Veiled hostility shimmered in Yanagisawa’s dark, liquid gaze.
Frustration sharpened Sano’s anger at the chamberlain. By airing his grievances with Yanagisawa there to oppose him, he risked immediate defeat in the opening round of battle, but if he waited until he could get Tokugawa Tsunayoshi alone, Yanagisawa’s next attack might succeed first.
“Ahh, Sôsakan Sano.” The shogun beckoned with his fan. His voice was distant, unfriendly. “Come. Join us.”
“Thank you, Your Excellency.” As Sano knelt in his customary spot on the upper level at the shogun’s left and bowed to his lord, trepidation chilled him. Surely he was in trouble, and he thought he knew why. Bowing to Yanagisawa, he said, “Good evening, Honorable Chamberlain.”
“Good evening,” Yanagisawa said in a cold, polite tone.
“I’ve brought you here for two important reasons,” the shogun said to Sano. “First, I regret to say that I am most, ahh, disappointed in your failure to capture the Lion of the Kant?. I have just been informed that you and your men were drinking and smoking in a tobacco shop tonight, and, ahh, accidentally set it on fire, while unbeknown to you, the Lion was right across the street! Your gross ineptitude forced Chamberlain Yanagisawa to step in and capture the Lion himself. He has displayed the, ahh, wits and initiative that you lack.”
With horror, Sano saw his suspicions confirmed. Yanagisawa had twisted the truth to his own advantage, stealing credit for solving the case. The shogun, perhaps not the brightest dictator in the world, often misunderstood situations; he remained ignorant of the animosity between Sano and Yanagisawa. He was also too ready to believe whatever Yanagisawa told him. Although Bushido forbade Sano to contradict his lord, he had to amend this bizarre distortion of the facts.
“It wasn’t exactly like that,” he began cautiously.
Chamberlain Yanagisawa’s suave voice cut in: “Are you saying that His Excellency has made a mistake and presuming to correct him?”
Sano was indeed, but when he saw displeasure darken the shogun’s face, he said quickly, “No, of course not. I would just like to present my version of events.”
Tokugawa Tsunayoshi silenced him with a raised hand. “There is no need. The, ahh, truth is evident. You failed in your duty. My faith in you has been, ahh, sadly misplaced.”
The undeserved reproach wounded Sano. How unfair that one failure—which wasn’t his fault—should negate everything he’d done right in the past! Although furious at Yanagisawa for thwarting his attempt to defend himself, he realized that persisting would only worsen Tsunayoshi’s disapproval. He bowed his head. “My deepest apologies, Your Excellency.”
Shame and dread sickened him as he suffered the blow to his honor and faced the likelihood of losing his post, and probably his life.
“However,” the shogun said, “I have decided to give you a chance to ameliorate your, ahh, disgrace.”
The prospect of a reprieve gladdened Sano, as did the sudden anxiety he sensed behind Yanagisawa’s neutral expression. His defeat wasn’t sealed, as the chamberlain had obviously hoped.
“This brings me to my second reason for summoning you,” the shogun said.
He nodded to a servant, who left the room and immediately returned with a samurai clad in an armor tunic with red Tokugawa crests on the breastplate. The samurai knelt on the lower level and bowed.
“This is Captain Mori,” the shogun said. “He is an envoy from the office of my, ahh, shoshidai in Miyako.”
The old capital, unlike other cities, was governed not by a provincial daimyo—feudal lord—but by a special deputy. This shoshidai was always a Tokugawa relative whose rank and trustworthiness merited this important position.
After introducing Sano and Yanagisawa, the shogun continued, “The captain has just arrived with some disturbing news. Ahh . . .” Memory or words failed Tsunayoshi, and he gestured to the newcomer. “Repeat what you told me.”
Captain Mori said, “Sixteen days ago, Konoe Bokuden, the imperial minister of the left, died suddenly. He was only forty-eight, and in good health. The court officials who reported his death were vague about how it occurred. Foul play seems a possibility. The shoshidai has begun an inquiry, but under the circumstances, he thought it best to seek advice from Edo.”
Hope and apprehension rose in Sano as he realized that the shogun was going to send him to Miyako to investigate the death. A new case offered a welcome opportunity to reclaim his honor and reputation. Yet Sano didn’t want to go away, leaving Chamberlain Yanagisawa free to menace Reiko and undermine his influence with Tokugawa Tsunayoshi.
Meet the Author
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.
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i recently dicovered this series and it a wonderful and eye opening insight into what life was like in 17Th century japan.to be a investigator of crimes then was not about truth or justice .i think that the reader will be astonished at the obstacles that sano and his wife (book three on) have to endure to solve a murder.the author has done very thourogh research and the red herrings and clues usualy leave you guessing to the end.i just finished book 6 in series and will continue on.
I like romantic mysteries, and though this doesn't have hot and steamy moments, it definitely is full of both romance and mystery. The characters are fully developed and the twists and turns have you putting on your detective garb right along with the characters. The writing style is a little difficult (though not distracting) for me at times because it follows the train of thought of whichever character she is following at the time, between the dialogue, but the settings, atmosphere, characters, and plot all make up for it.
I love the plot. It was the first book I read of Rowland and I ablolutely loved it. I love it how everyone in the story seems so mysterous. It's just the bomb.
I'm not a fan of reading novels but I always happen to judge a book by it's cover. That's exactly why I bought it and I loved it. This book was beautifully written with talent and excellent imagery. I stayed up long nights reading this book. The mystery of the killer will keep your fingers gripped on the book. Each page was diffferent and more exciting. I hope others will enjoy this murder mystery novel as much as I have.
In 1691 Japan, Imperial Minister Konoe Bokuden searches for any noble threatening the rule of his Shogun. However, the minister must have gotten to close to uncovering a plot because an unknown assailant, applying the extremely difficult to master and therefore rarely used spirit cry of kiai kills Konoe. The Shogun sends his Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People, Sano Ichiro to make inquiries into the death of Konoe and to especially uncover what the minister learned. Sano knows he must succeed because the failure of his previous case not only dishonored him but also left the Shogun wondering whether to replace him. Over his initial objections and his fears how the Shogun will react, his new wife Reiko insists on helping him with this dangerous case. As the newlyweds get closer to the truth, their lives and that of the nobility is endangered, as civil war seems eminent unless they can expose the culprit. THE SAMURAI¿S WIFE, the fourth historical mystery starring the Samurai Detective Sano, continues in the tradition of providing readers with entertaining novels. The who-done-it is cleverly designed and the lead couple is a fascinating duo working as a team over Sano¿s objections. However, what makes talented author Laura Joh Rowland¿s novel a jubilation for historical fans is the resplendent descriptions of Feudal Japan that makes the audience feel they are visiting the island in the late seventeenth century. Harriet Klausner