The Way of the Traitor:: A Samurai Mystery

Laura Joh Rowland, Author Villard Books $24 (320p) ISBN 978-0-679-44900-3
In the port of Nagasaki in the year 1690, the prosperous Japanese power elite is doing quite well from trade, although the arrival of the Dutch makes everyone nervous. To diminish the possibility of attack, the Dutch are confined to a small section of the city and local citizens are told that contact with foreigners is a treasonable offense. Into this poisonous atmosphere steps Samurai Sano Ichiro, the shogun's Most Honourable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People. While gathering information about the disappearance of Jan Spaen, the Dutch Trade Director, the steadfast and competent Sano, last seen in Shinju, believes he's being set up for a fall by a highly placed enemy, a possibility foreshadowed by the beheading of a traitor in the opening pages. When Spaen is found murdered, Sano suspects the murderer is a local, and, even though it means adding to an atmosphere already thick with tension, the Samurai can't let the truth go. He must employ all his skills to maintain balance as tries to bring the killers to justice while saving his own neck, struggles to remain loyal while satisfying his own curiosity about the outside world, and determines if justice is worth the price even as he pays it. As the Dutch declare their insistence that the killer be found by training their ship's guns on the city, Sano's predicament intensifies. The collision of East and West is compelling, but Rowland's bland prose and disappointingly predictable solution ill serve her story's central conflict. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/02/1997
Release date: 06/01/1997
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