Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Iris Fan
Review, excerpt and interview!

Publication Date: December 9, 2014
Minotaur Books
Formats: eBook, Hardcover

Series: Sano Ichiro Mystery Series (Book 18)
Genre: Historical Mystery

Japan, 1709. The shogun is old and ailing. Amid the ever-treacherous intrigue in the court, Sano Ichiro has been demoted from chamberlain to a lowly patrol guard. His relationship with his wife Reiko is in tatters, and a bizarre new alliance between his two enemies Yanagisawa and Lord Ienobu has left him puzzled and wary. Sano’s onetime friend Hirata is a reluctant conspirator in a plot against the ruling regime. Yet, Sano's dedication to the Way of the Warrior—the samurai code of honor—is undiminished.

Then a harrowing, almost inconceivable crime takes place. In his own palace, the shogun is stabbed with a fan made of painted silk with sharp-pointed iron ribs. Sano is restored to the rank of chief investigator to find the culprit. This is the most significant, and most dangerous, investigation of his career. If the shogun's heir is displeased, he will have Sano and his family put to death without waiting for the shogun's permission, then worry about the consequences later. And Sano has enemies of his own, as well as unexpected allies. As the previously unimaginable death of the shogun seems ever more possible, Sano finds himself at the center of warring forces that threaten not only his own family but Japan itself.

Riveting and richly imagined, with a magnificent sense of time and place, The Iris Fan is the triumphant conclusion to Laura Joh Rowland's brilliant series of thrillers set in feudal Japan.

This book is the last of a series and the way Laura Joh Rowland fills the reader in on the backstory made me feel as if I had read along through the other 17 books (and I intend to read the others, of course). It is the era of the shogunate in 18th century feudal Japan and the shogun is very ill. An assassination attempt is made while he is on his sickbed. It becomes clear that the shogun is likely to die and many trusted allies and even family are suspects! Sano Ichiro is called out of his demotion and exile to figure out who the killer is.
The investigation brings many secrets to light and forces many people to confront their broken relationships. Will Sano and his friend Hirata keep their marriages intact? Will the children affected by the many feuds forgive their parents? Who will be the next shogun? Will there be war? Sano must solve the mystery, do what is honorable and struggle to get his family through utter chaos.
5 out of 5 Stars for me. I will be purchasing this book for each of my children to add to their adult libraries.

(The Prologue)
Slow, hissing breaths expanded and contracted the air in a chamber as dark as the bottom of a crypt. Wind shook the shutters. Sleet pattered onto the tile roof. In the corridor outside the chamber, the floor creaked under stealthy footsteps. The shimmering yellow glow of an oil lamp diffused across the room’s lattice-and-paper wall. The footsteps halted outside the room; the door slid open as quietly as a whisper. A hand draped in the sleeve of a black kimono held the lamp across the threshold. The flame illuminated a futon, covered with a gold brocade satin quilt, in which two human shapes slumbered.
The quilt rose and fell with their breathing. The black-robed figure hovered at the threshold, then tiptoed, on feet clad in split-toed socks, into the bedchamber. The hem of its silk kimono slithered across the tatami floor. Its breathing was shallow, ragged with anxiety. It paused by the bed, holding the light over the two sleepers, whose gentle, rhythmic respirations continued. Then it crept to the one on the left, nearest the door. Kneeling, it set the lamp on the bedside table without a sound. In the dim light from the flame, a hand slowly, carefully, drew back the quilt.
Underneath, a man lay on his stomach, his head turned away from the intruder. He wore a white night cap over his hair; his body was naked. The intruder contemplated his thin back, his protruding ribs and spine, his scrawny limbs. Red blotches covered his sallow, sweaty skin. He coughed in his sleep; he didn’t wake.
The intruder sat back on its heels. Its ragged breaths quickened as its hand withdrew from beneath its sash a long, thin object with a sharp, gleaming metal end. The intruder glanced over its shoulder toward the door.
The corridor was silent, still.
Sleet battered the roof with a noise like raining arrowheads.
The wind moaned.
The intruder sucked in a deep, tremulous gasp, raised the weapon high above the sleeping man, and brought it slashing down.

An Interview with the Author!
The book is, of course, set in Edo which is now Tokyo. What do you admire and dislike about modern day Tokyo?
I like the energy, cutting-edge-ness, and the people. When I was there, I didn’t like feeling slow and schlumpy compared to everybody else.
If you could go back in time to any place and/or event in feudal Japan, what would you like to see?
Yoshiwara. I’d love to see if everything I’ve read about it is true.
What was your research process for this book?
Most of my research on Japanese history and culture was done in libraries, more than 20 years ago when I started the series. Recently, I’ve used online resources as well as reference books.
What is one of your favorite moments in the series?
I loved it when Sano finally told the shogun off in The Shogun’s Daughter.
What do you think was the real cause of death for the real Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi?
I think it probably was measles or some other disease. But the rumor that he was murdered is a lot more interesting.
What were your favorite books during your childhood years?
I loved Nancy Drew, Phyllis Whitney’s suspense novels for kids, and anything else with a mystery in it.
Who is your favorite author to read now that you are an adult?
My favorite is constantly changing. At the moment I’m big on Sophie Hannah, the British suspense author. I’m currently reading “The Other Woman’s House.” Her books remind me of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, another favorite.
I see that your mentor is the science fiction author George Alec Effinger. What were some of the lessons you learned from him?
Don’t make your main character a wimp! I think I managed to make Sano anything but.
Are there any upcoming chances for readers to meet you? 
I’m usually at Book Expo America in Manhattan in May and the Brooklyn Book Festival in September.
Now that you are done with the Sano Ichirō thrillers, what are your future projects?
I’m working on a historical thriller set in Victorian England. I hope it will be the launch of a new series.


The Sano Ichiro Mystery Series Titles
The Way of the Traitor
The Concubine's Tattoo
The Samurai's Wife
Black Lotus
The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria
The Dragon King's Palace
The Perfumed Sleeve
The Assassin's Touch
The Red Chrysanthemum
The Snow Empress
The Fire Kimono
The Cloud Pavilion
The Ronin's Mistress
The Incense Game
The Shogun's Daughter
The Iris Fan


I found this video helpful to unnderstanding the caste systems and moral values of the time period.

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