The Ronin's Mistress
Review: Laura Joh Rowland's 15th Sano Ichiro mystery, The Ronin's Mistress, uses as its foundation an actual event from Japan's feudal history, the story of the 47 ronin, one that itself is shrouded in mystery to this day.
In January of 1703, 47 ronin, warriors without a master, kill a government official, who they blame for the act that resulted in their master being convicted of a capital crime two years earlier, one that required him to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). The shogun convenes a supreme court and assigns Sano to investigate the crime and present the facts to the court. He readily finds the 47 men gathered around their master's grave, saying they are "awaiting orders". From whom or to what end, Sano does not know. The fate of the 47 ronin are in the hands of Sano: if his investigation yields that the men acted honorably in avenging the death of their master, they would be set free; if he determines they murdered the official without just cause, they would be executed. But either way, Sano believes his own already precarious standing in the government will be jeopardized, as there are powerful forces on both sides of the case, who will be ready and able to exact their own revenge on Sano if he doesn't present an argument to support their own pre-disposed opinion.
The Ronin's Mistress alternates between Sano's investigation into the 47 ronin and that of his wife, Reiko, who has befriended the mistress of their leader. The former is an accurate retelling of the historical story, with the inclusion of Sano's fictional investigation, and is quite compelling; the latter is, presumably, entirely fictional and is by far the weakest element of the book. Okaru, the ronin's mistress, comes across as a self-centered opportunist and is overall not a very likeable character. Worse still is the silliness associated with Sano's pre-teenaged son Masahiro's infatuation with her. It's a little hard to understand how she rated the title of the book when her role in the story of the 47 ronin is fairly minimal.
Fortunately, Sano's delicate balancing of the political tightrope he's walking more than compensates for the relatively insipid mistress subplot. He's troubled early on when, while interviewing the ronin, he doesn't get agreement from them on why they killed the official. "I have a feeling that everyone involved is mixing fact and fiction," he says. "We're no closer to the truth than we were before our investigation started." But soon he is able to discern between them, setting up an exciting showdown in the shogun's private quarters that also presents a credible potential solution to the historical mystery of the 47 ronin.
Acknowledgment: Minotaur Books provided a copy of The Ronin's Mistress for this review.
Review Copyright © 2011 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in The Ronin's Mistress: Japan
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The Ronin's Mistress by Laura Joh Rowland — A Sano Ichiro Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: September 2011
List Price: $25.99
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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