cover image The Incense Game

The Incense Game

Laura Joh Rowland. Minotaur, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-312-65853-3

A natural disaster serves as the focal point for Rowland’s stellar 16th whodunit set in feudal Japan (after 2011’s The Ronin’s Mistress). In 1703, an earthquake devastates the city of Edo, claiming thousands of lives and causing major structural damage. Recovery efforts yield the bodies of two sisters and another woman, who perished playing the incense game, in which participants “burned incense samples, smelled the smoke, and attempted to guess what type they were.” Evidence that the incense was poisoned leads Lord Hosokawa, the powerful father of the two sisters, to blackmail Sano Ichiro, chamberlain to the shogun, into finding his daughters’ killer. Should Sano fail to do so, Hosokawa will ally himself with the nobles looking to topple the shogun, taking advantage of the rampant weaknesses of the regime, which the earthquake exacerbated. Once again, Rowland sets the bar high for her hero, who must navigate treacherous political shoals as well as deduce the killer’s identity. Agent: Pam Ahearn, the Ahearn Agency. (Sept.)