Black Lotus (Sano Ichiro Series #6)

Black Lotus (Sano Ichiro Series #6)

by Laura Joh Rowland

Paperback(First Edition)

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In September of 1693, the Black Lotus Temple, spiritual center for hundreds of Buddhist nuns, monks, priests, and orphans, is burned to the ground leaving three dead and one orphan running for cover. Veteran samurai-detective Sano Ichiro, the Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations and People, is called on to investigate the incident. He quickly discovers that despite appearances, the victims did not die in the fire: they were brutally murdered before the fire even began.

With a triple homicide on his hands, Sano's search for a killer leads him to Haru, the orphan girl found at the scene of the crime. But Sano's wife Reiko, investigating the case against Sano's wishes, is convinced of Haru's innocence. Reiko's investigation leads her behind the walls of the Black Lotus Temple. It is within these walls that she discovers a sect involved in extortion, prostitution, and hedonistic rituals. Could one of the sect's members be the killer? Will Reiko risk her marriage to Sano in order to prove Haru's innocence?

Set in the luscious finery of the samurai court of medieval Japan, this latest installment in the best-selling series by Laura Joh Rowland, is filled with shocking surprises and suspense as readers are once again allowed access into the world of Sano Ichiro.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250025630
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 04/21/2001
Series: Sano Ichiro Series , #6
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 967,245
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.85(d)

About the Author

Laura Joh Rowland is the granddaughter of Chinese and Korean immigrants. She grew up in Michigan and was educated at the University of Michigan, where she graduated with a B.S. in microbiology and a master's in public health. She lives in New Orleans with her husband, Marty, and their three cats. Her previous novels include The Samurai's Wife, The Concubine's Tattoo, and Shinju, all of which feature the samurai-detective Sano Ichiro.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I have come into this impure and evil world
To preach the ultimate truth.
Hear, and you shall be released from suffering
And attain perfect enlightenment

    "There was lamp oil spilled along the path to the cottage and on the ground around it." In the private audience chamber of Edo Castle, Sano Ichiro addressed Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, Japan's supreme military dictator. "The fire brigade found a ceramic jar containing a small quantity of oil hidden in some bushes nearby. And a search of the garden turned up what appeared to be a torch: a stump of pinewood with a charred rag wrapped around the end. I've examined the scene and the evidence. The fire was definitely the result of arson."

    "Ahh, this is most serious." A frown crossed the shogun's mild, aristocratic features. Dressed in an embroidered bronze satin kimono and the cylindrical black cap of his rank, he stirred uncomfortably upon the dais, where he sat with his back to a mural of blue rivers and silver clouds, facing Sano, who knelt on the tatami floor below. Attendants rearranged the silk cushions around the shogun, filled his silver tobacco pipe, and poured more sake into the cup on the low table beside him, but he waved them away and turned toward the open window, contemplating the crimson sunset descending upon the garden. From the distance came the neigh of horses, the footsteps of patrolling guards, the muted bustle of servants. "I did hope that the, ahh, suspicious of the fire brigade would prove unfounded," the shogun continuedmorosely,"and that the fire was just an accident. But alas, you have confirmed my, ahh, worst fears."

    That morning, a messenger had brought word of the fire at the temple of the Black Lotus sect, along with a report from the fire brigade commander, which stated that the blaze had been set deliberately. Zojo was the Tokugawa family temple, where the clan worshipped and its ancestors lay entombed, and any crime against the main temple or its subsidiaries constituted an attack against the shogun. In addition, Tsunayoshi was a devout Buddhist, a generous patron of religion, and took a strong personal interest in the Zojo community. Therefore, he'd assigned Sano to investigate the fire. Sano had begun inquiries at the Black Lotus Temple and had just returned.

    Now the shogun said, "I suppose you have also confirmed the, ahh, identity of the man who died in the fire?"

    "I regret to say that I have," Sano said. "It was indeed Oyama Jushin, chief police commander. When I viewed the body, I recognized him immediately."

    Prior to becoming the shogun's sosakan-sama Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People—Sano had served on Edo's police force as a yoriki, a senior police commander. He and Oyama had been colleagues, although Sano hadn't particularly liked Oyama. As a hereditary Tokugawa vassal whose family had served the shogun's clan for generations, Oyama had scorned Sano, who was the son of a ronin, a masterless samurai. Oyama had been promoted to his present higher rank last winter. From priests at the Black Lotus Temple, Sano had learned that Oyama had recently joined the sect. Now the death of an important official transformed the arson into a politically sensitive murder case and grave offense against the bakufu, Japan's military dictatorship. Fate had brought Sane, the responsibility of catching the killer.

    "The other two victims haven't been identified yet," Sano said. "One was a woman and the other a small child, but they were badly burned, and at the moment, it seems that no one knows who they are. Membership in the sect has grown rapidly; there are presently four hundred twenty holy men and women living on the premises, with more arriving every day, plus ninety servants and thirty-two orphans. Nobody seems to be missing, but I got the impression that the sect has difficulty keeping its records up to date. And because of the crowds that frequent the temple, they can't efficiently monitor who's in the compound at any given time."

    This situation sometimes occurred as a sect grew in popularity among people in search of spiritual guidance or a new diversion. The many new followers of the Black Lotus Temple could worship or even live together while remaining virtual strangers. Two particular individuals might have easily gone unnoticed by the sect leaders.

    "Ahh, there are so many Buddhist orders nowadays that it is difficult to keep them all straight," the shogun said with a sigh. "What distinguishes the Black Lotus from the rest?"

    Sano had familiarized himself with the sect while at the temple. He said, "Its central doctrine is the Black Lotus Sutra." A sutra was a Buddhist scripture, written in prose and verse, parables and lectures, containing the teachings of the Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha who had lived in India approximately a thousand years before. There were some eighty-four thousand sutras, each of which elucidated different aspects of his wisdom. Various orders structured their practices around various texts. "The sect members believe that the Black Lotus Sutra represents the final, definitive teaching of the Buddha, and contains the essential, perfect, ultimate law of human existence and cosmic totality. They also believe that worshippers who absorb the truth contained in the sutra will attain nirvana."

    Nirvana was a state of pure peace and spiritual enlightenment, the goal of Buddhists. The state could not be articulated, only experienced.

    This explanation seemed to satisfy Tsunayoshi. "Will you keep trying to identify the dead woman and child?" he ventured timidly. A dictator with little talent for leadership and less self-confidence, he hesitated to make suggestions that he feared might sound stupid.

    "I certainly will," Sano reassured his lord. Who the unknown victims had been might prove critical to the investigation. For reasons involving Tokugawa law, Sano forbore to mention that he'd sent all three bodies to Edo Morgue for examination by his friend and adviser Dr. Ito.

    "This is a sorry state of affairs," lamented the shogun, fumbling with his pipe. A manservant lit it for him and placed the stem between his lips. "Ahh, I wish the Honorable Chamberlain Yanagisawa were here to offer his opinion!"

    Yanagisawa, the shogun's second-in-command, had gone to Echigo Province on a tour of inspection with his lover and chief retainer, Hoshina; they wouldn't be back for two months. Although Sano couldn't share Tsunayoshi's wish, neither did he welcome the chamberlain's absence with the joy he might have once felt.

    From Sano's early days at Edo Castle, Yanagisawa had viewed him as a rival for the shogun's favor, for power over the weak lord and thus the entire nation. He'd repeatedly tried to sabotage Sano's investigations, destroy his reputation, and assassinate him. But two years ago, a case involving the mysterious death of a court noble in the ancient imperial capital had fostered an unexpected comradeship between Sano and Yanagisawa, Since then, they'd coexisted in a truce. Sano didn't expect this harmony to continue forever, but he meant to enjoy it while it lasted. Today his life seemed replete with wonderful blessings and challenges: He had a family that he loved, the favor of the shogun, and an interesting new case.

    "Have you any idea who committed this terrible crime?" asked the shogun.

    "Not yet," Sano said. "My detectives and I have begun interviewing the residents of the Black Lotus Temple, but so far we've found neither witnesses nor suspects ... with one possible exception. The fire brigade found a girl near the scene. Her name is Haru; she's fifteen years old and an orphan who lives in the temple orphanage. Apparently she tried to run away, then fainted."

    Tsunayoshi gulped sake; his brow furrowed in thought. "So you think that this girl, ahh, saw something? Or did she set the fire?"

    "Either alternative is possible," Sano said, "but I haven't been able to get any information from her."

    By the time he'd arrived at the Black Lotus Temple, the nuns had put Haru to bed in the orphanage dormitory, a long, narrow room where the children slept on straw mattresses atop wooden pallets. Haru had regained consciousness, but when Sano approached her, the small, slender girl shrieked in terror and dived under the quilts. When two nuns pulled her out, she clung to them, sobbing hysterically.

    "I won't hurt you," Sano said gently, kneeling beside the pallet where the nuns held Haru. "I just want to ask you some questions."

    She only sobbed harder, hiding her face behind her tangled, waist-length hair. Sano ordered a soothing herb tea brought to her, but she refused to drink. After an hour of failed attempts to calm and question Haru, Sano told his chief retainer, Hirata, to try. Hirata was young, personable, and popular with girls, but he fared no better than Sano. Haru cried herself into a fit of choking, then vomited. Finally Sano and Hirata gave up.

    As they left the dormitory, Sano asked the nuns, "Has Haru told anyone what she was doing outside the cottage, or what she saw there?"

    "She hasn't uttered a word since she was found," answered a nun. "When the fire brigade and the priests questioned her, she behaved as you just saw. With us nuns she's calmer, but she still won't talk."

    Now Sano explained the situation to Tsunayoshi, who shook his head and said, "Perhaps a demon has, ahh, stolen the poor girl's voice. Ahh, how unfortunate that your only witness cannot speak!"

    But Sano had a different theory about Haru's behavior, and a possible solution to the problem. "Tomorrow I'll try another way of breaking her silence," he said.

    After leaving the shogun, Sano walked down the hill on which Edo Castle perched, through stone passages between enclosed corridors and watchtowers manned by armed guards, past security checkpoints. Lanterns carried by patrolling troops glowed in the deepening blue twilight. The evening was almost as mild as summer, yet a golden haze veiled the waxing moon. The wind breathed the scent of charcoal smoke and dry leaves. In the official quarter, where the shogun's high-ranking retainers lived, Sano quickened his steps as he passed estates surrounded by barracks with whitewashed walls. He was eager for the company of his family, and he had a plan to propose.

    He hurried through the gate of his estate, greeting the guards stationed there and in the paved courtyard inside the barracks. Beyond an inner gate, he entered the mansion, a large, half-timbered building with a brown tile roof. As he removed his shoes and swords inside the entry porch, he heard feminine voices singing and laughing, and the excited shrieks of a child. He smiled in bemusement while he walked down the corridor toward the private chambers. He still couldn't believe that the addition of one tiny person had transformed his peaceful household into a place of noisy activity. He stopped at the nursery door. His smile broadened.

    Inside the warm, bright room, his wife, Reiko, sat in a circle with four other women—her old nurse O-sugi, two maids, and Midori, a family friend. They were singing a folk tune. Little Masahiro, eighteen months old, dressed in a green cotton sleeping kimono, his soft black locks disheveled and his round face rosy, toddled on plump legs from one woman to the next within the circle. His happy, childish whoops joined their song; his tiny hands clapped against theirs.

    Reiko glanced up and saw Sano, Her delicate, lovely features brightened. "Look, Masahiro-chan. It's your father!"

    Arms outstretched, chortling in excitement, Masahiro ran to Sano, who picked him up, tossed him in the air, and caught him, Masahiro laughed with glee. Sano hugged his son close, enjoying Masahiro's softness and sweet smell. Love clenched his heart; awe sobered him. He was a first-time father at the late age of thirty-four, and this boisterous little creature seemed a miracle.

    "My little samurai," Sano murmured, nuzzling his son's face.

    0-sugi and the maids gathered up the water basin and damp towels from Masahiro's bath and departed. Sano greeted Midori. "How are you tonight?"

    "Fine, thank you." Midori bowed. Dimples flashed in her plump checks; her lively eyes danced. Eighteen years old, she was a daughter of a powerful daimyo — provincial lord — and held a post as a lady-in-waiting to the shogun's mother, Sano had met her during an investigation some years ago. She and Reiko had become friends, and Sano suspected that Midori and his retainer Hirata were somewhat more than friends. Because the shogun's mother had many other attendants to serve her, and great esteem for Sano, she allowed Midori to visit the estate often.

    "I guess it's getting late," Midori said, rising. "I'd better go back to the palace." To Reiko she said, "Shall I come again tomorrow?"

    Reiko smiled and nodded. "Good night."

    After Midori left, Sano and Reiko played with Masahiro, discussing his appetite, bowels, and all the endearing things he'd done today. Then Reiko announced, "Bedtime!" This entailed much fussing and coaxing, but finally Masahiro was asleep on his little futon. Sano and Reiko settled in the parlor, where he ate a meal of miso soup, rice, grilled trout, and vegetables.

    Reclining upon cushions, Reiko sipped tea. Tendrils of hair had escaped her upswept coiffure; fatigue shadowed her eyes; food stains blotched her maroon silk kimono. She was twenty-three years old, and motherhood had given her a new, mature beauty. "Masahiro is so lively, he wears me out," she said.

    "You work too hard," Sano said between bites of fish. "Let the maids help with Masahiro."

    "Oh, well. Masahiro keeps me busy." Reiko smiled, adding wistfully, "There's not much else for me to do."

    Sano knew that Reiko, the only child of Magistrate Ueda, had enjoyed an unconventional girlhood. Her indulgent father had hired tutors to give her the education usually reserved for samurai sons bound for careers in the bakufu. Despite all her training, however, which extended even to the martial arts, women couldn't hold government posts or work as anything except servants, farm laborers, nuns, or prostitutes. Not until she married had Reiko found a use for her talents: helping Sano with his investigations.

    She'd uncovered clues in places where male detectives couldn't go. She'd gathered information through a network composed of women associated with powerful samurai clans. Often her discoveries led to the solution of a case. But since Masahiro's arrival, Reiko had spent almost all her time at the estate. The child had occupied her, and there'd been no work for her in Sano's recent investigations.

    "What did you do today?" Reiko asked.

    The eager curiosity in her voice told Sano that she missed the challenge of detective work. Now he realized with consternation that she'd lost some of her spirit. That he hadn't noticed this before signified that they'd grown apart. Maybe a short break from housewifery would refresh Reiko and bring them closer together.

    "I have a new case," Sano said. While he ate rice and pickled daikon, he told Reiko about the fire and the three deaths. He described his unsuccessful interrogation of Haru, then said, "From her behavior toward the fire brigade, the priests, Hirata, and myself, I believe she's afraid of men. I ordered her moved from the orphanage to the main convent at Zojo Temple because I don't want potential suspects—as all the residents of the Black Lotus Temple are—to influence my only witness. I'd like you to go there and interview Haru."

    Sano smiled at Reiko. "You're my only female detective, and I'm hoping that you can get some information from her. Do you want to try?"

    Reiko sat up straight; her eyes sparkled, and she shed her weariness like a cast-off garment. "I would love to."

    "I must warn you that Haru may not cooperate with you," Sano said, though pleased by Reiko's enthusiasm.

    "Oh, I'm sure I can persuade her to talk. How soon can we go to the Black Lotus Temple?" Reiko looked ready to jump up and leave immediately.

    "I have to go to Edo Morgue tomorrow," Sano said, "then make inquiries around town." Seeing Reiko's disappointed expression, he said "But my detectives are going to Zojo district in the morning. They can escort you, if you like."

    "Wonderful. I can hardly wait."

    Reiko shimmered with happy energy. Sano saw in her the young bride who on their wedding day had pleaded to help solve a murder case, then forged ahead on her own after he'd refused. He felt a surge of love for her.

    "All right," he said. "We can share our results in the evening."

    A distant look came into Reiko's eyes, as if she'd mentally moved ahead in time to tomorrow. "This is a very important interview. I must be careful with Haru. Tell me everything about her, so I can decide how best to draw her out."

    They discussed possible strategies, just as they had in the days before Masahiro. Sano realized he'd missed their partnership, and was glad be could include Reiko in the investigation.

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What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Well-developed characters, absorbing plot, and rich detail should win the author a place on mystery bestseller lists."—Publishers Weekly

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

"Laura Joh Rowland's richly detailed books about a 17th-century Japanese samurai-warrior-turned-detective are...packed with plot narrative."—Chicago Tribune

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Black Lotus (Sano Ichiro Series #6) 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was set in 17th century japan. Sano, a detective for the shogun is trying to solve a case that involves arson and murder. The little girl Haru was found nearby the burned cottage and is the prime suspect of the case. Reiko, Sano's wife tries to help Haru to prove her innocence. Stumbling upon the Black Lotus Temple, Reiko finds out that the temple is involved in kidnapping, prostitution, and torture. She now must investigate more into the temple... I thought that the ending was really good and I recomend this book
Guest More than 1 year ago
Who would have thought that 17th century Japan was so interesting (well, to be truthfully i knew by Eiji Yoshikawa's epic masterpiece Musashi)... What makes this story so good (and shows how talented of writer Rowland is) is how just when you think you've figured out who committed the murders, a highly unexpected plot twist is introduced, completely changing your thoughts... then ending was the best since it was highly unpredictable and somewhat surprising... i must congratulate Rowland on her wonderful novel and say that i for one look forward to the next...
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1693 Edo, witnesses saw the teenage girl flee and later hide in shock during the fire at the Black Lotus Temple where three bodies are found. Like just about everyone else, the Shogun¿s Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People Sano Ichiro believes that the girl committed homicide.

However, Sano¿s spouse Reiko cannot believe this fifteen-year-old is a cold-blooded killer. Instead, she feels they have captured an abuse victim and that the truth is hidden inside the mysterious BLACK LOTUS sect. As Sano goes down his official investigative path, Reiko travels a different journey with both seeking the truth even if it destroys their marriage.

BLACK LOTUS is an incredible seventeenth century Japanese mystery that brings to life the exciting Samurai period. The customs of the various classes augments the depth to a strong who-done-it. The rivalry, competition, and camaraderie between Sano and Reiko provides additional entertainment to this terrific tale. As with the entire series, Laura Joh Rowland has written another triumphant novel that will thrill mystery and historical fiction readers who will feel they traveled back in time.

Harriet Klausner

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Scents a mouse tasting the air. She slowly lightly steps forward until the morsel is in sight. She pounces slamming and paw down on the tail keeping it from scampering away. She cranes her neck to give the poor creature a nip on tjw neck trying to ignore the terrified sqeals of the mouse until it falls silent laying limp on the ground. She picked it up in her jaws and took it to a nearby tree and buries it planning to picit up later when she was done hunting the rest of the prey.
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Okay... did "Bane" post a bio at res 3?
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"I can use whatever name i want. Ask Holmes Bane has been my name fir many years"
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I think it might have helped inspire a fetish or two. Also, I liked the plot. Very nice book. I had no idea she wrote so many books, library only has this one.
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The 6th book in the series continues the deveopment of the characters with a new protaganist. A pleasant change and the author again places the characters in harms way with new challenges. The series remains fresh with the introduction of a new mystery.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
black lotus was the first book i bought from rowland her ability to write is fantastic! i could not put the book down during school and at home i lost 5 pounds in a week from doing nothing but reading it ! it was an outstanding plot, story and strong willed characters.