Author: Laura Joh Rowland
Series Title: Sano Ichiro Mysteries
Individual Titles: Shinju, Bundori, The Way of the Traitor, The Samurai's Wife, The Concubine's Tattoo, Black Lotus, The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria (hardcover)
Update - Late March 2003 - The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria is now out in paperback; the next title is The Dragon King's Palace.
Update - April 2005 - The Dragon King's Palace and The Perfumed Sleeve are both out in paperback (sorry, getting behind here...). Next comes The Assassin's Touch.
Update - Jan. 2007 - The Assasin's Touch came out in paperback in late October. I really need to update more often...
Update - April 2008 - I forgot to add Red Chrysanthemum to the list, too. Oops. Also check out her new one, The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte - not hugely believable, but a fun read.
An interesting mix of backgrounds - a Chinese/Korean-American writing about medieval Japan - creates a captivating detective against fabulous scenery. The time is the seventeenth century, the fifth Tokugawa shogun is in charge (nominally), and Japan is closed to foreigners. Sano Ichiro is a samurai who has achieved a position as a yoriki
(a high-ranking police official), not through hereditary means but by the influence of a family friend, and thus faces the disgruntlement of the other police. Through a successful investigation into a supposed shinju
(love suicide), he gains the favor of the shogun and is promoted to sosakan-sama
(head investigator, more or less). Through the course of the series he gains a devoted retainer, a wife who decides that being a detective is pretty fun, and goes in and out of favor with the regime depending on how well he's doing at any given moment.
Many Japanese words are sprinkled throughout the novels (you probably figured that out already...), which keep the flavor authentic while you're learning some vocabulary - always a fun bonus. The peeks into a past world are also quite fascinating - the wealth of detail on a myriad of subjects (everything from life in Edo Castle to legalized prostitution, and much in between) shows a painstaking attention to research, to the point where I don't even want to know what's real and what's not - it's such a credible world that I'll take it at face value.
The series changed publishers after three books, so the first three are available from Harper Torch, while the next three are from St. Martin's, both at $6.50 or $6.99; the seventh is, as yet, only in hardcover. As a long time historical mystery buff, these neatly fill a niche in the Asian sphere of things for me. Grab some green tea and spend a few evenings in the company of Sano et al. - it's a great way to get completely lost in a bygone era.
Legare est amare...