Original date of publication: 1994
My edition: 2001 (Harper Torch)
Why I decided to read: I discovered this one browsing on Amazon
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, April 2010
Shinju is a novel that introduces its reader to Sano Ichiro, a member of the shogun class who serves as a yoriki, investigating crimes in seventeenth-century Edo (Tokyo). It’s a position he’d rather not be in, since he gained his position through connections; and many of his contemporaries resent him for it. When the daughter of one of the most preeminent families in Edo turns up dead in the company of a lowly artist, everyone assumes that they were a double love-suicide, or Shinju. But Sano Ichiro suspects otherwise, and his search for a murderer leads him into dangerous territory—especially since the family of the dead girl would rather keep the matter closed.
This is a very strong start to what seems like an interesting series. Sano Ichiro is an unusual investigator—anyone else in his position would simply commit seppuku rather than live with the shame of what he’s done; but Ichiro persists in his investigation, driven by his sense of honor. His unconventional behavior makes him an intriguing character, one I want to read more about in future books. Rowland’s description of her characters’ emotions is a bit simplistic, and our hero is both astute and dense at the same time (how did he figure out the identity of the “watcher” who follows him along the Tokkaido so quickly?); but I was able to overlook these things because I enjoyed much of the rest of the book.
I loved the setting of the book, too; Rowland describes everything about late-17th century Japan in deep detail. I love historically detailed novels, and people who look for that kind of thing will enjoy this book. Not knowing much about the history of Japan, I can’t say if this is historically accurate, but everything Rowland writes about hangs together well. From sumo matches to 17th century crime and punishment (brutal at the very least), the author gives her reader an intimate view of Edo.