Shinju

Laura Joh Rowland, Author Random House (NY) $21 (367p) ISBN 978-0-679-43422-1
Seventeenth-century Tokyo is the setting for Rowland's debut novel, a murder mystery starring the Senior Police Commander in the district of Edo. Sano Ichiro, a samurai whose academic background puts him at odds with most of his peers, discovers two bodies in the Sumida River, a man and woman bound together in what appears to have been a shinju, or ``double love suicide.'' The man is a peasant, the woman the high-born daughter of an important official. Told by his superior to close the case without an investigation, Sano, suspecting murder, determines to investigate on his own. He orders an illegal autopsy and learns that the victims did not drown but cannot make his discovery known. Amidst many tribulations, he uncovers a trail of corruption and intrigue that ultimately leads him to suspect a member of a royal family. Replete with convincing details, the setting's time and place provide lively and diverting passages; the plot, however, twists only occasionally before its fairly predictable, politically rooted resolution. Rowland crafts a competent mystery her first time out, shows sure command of her background material and demonstrates that she is a writer of depth and potential. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/29/1994
Release date: 09/01/1994
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