Bundori:: A Novel of Japan

Laura Joh Rowland, Author Villard Books $23 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-43423-8
Brutal murders linked to an ancient betrayal send late 17th-century Tokyo into a panic. They also spell big trouble for the Shogun's special investigator, Sano Ichiro, in this sequel to Rowland's well-received first novel, Shinju. The killings are made known when the severed heads of the victims are put on public display, in the manner of an ancient custom known as bundori, or war trophy. The victims are descendants of warriors who, more than a century earlier, were involved in the murder of a powerful warlord. As the killings continue, Sano, though hampered in his investigation by his devotion to the warrior-code of bushido and its precepts of silent obedience and service, suspects three of the most powerful men in the Shogunate, including Chamberlain Yanagisawa. Also complicating Sano's quest for the truth is a female ninja in Yanagisawa's power; aiding it are an eager young officer in the Tokyo police and a quirky old morgue attendant. Sano's allegiance to bushido makes him an unexpectedly passive hero, undermining the author's apparent attempt to wed Japanese philosophy to Western mystery-thriller conventions. But the novel reads smoothly and positively smokes with historical atmospherics. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/29/1996
Release date: 02/01/1996
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