An 11th-century Japanese sleuth solves two killings that strike uncomfortably close to home.
The brutal murder of Tomoe, a blind street singer, offers a stark contrast to the beautiful morning that greets Lord Sugawara Akitada and his beloved wife Tamako. Akitada, who serves as Senior Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, has recently been testy and restless at work. The solution, he realizes, is to fulfill a past promise to ferret out the killer of his friend Haseo, even though this could imperil his position in the royal court. The only clue in the murder of Haseo, a former convict unjustly condemned, is the weapon: a sword. Tomoe’s killing presents a more pressing mystery. The prime suspect is Tora, one of Akitada’s three lieutenants, reportedly apprehended near the body with knife in hand. Amazingly, Tora’s elder cohort Seimei theorizes that the hotheaded young man might indeed be guilty. Akitada uneasily presses for Tora’s release so that he can help find the killer. The case only grows more complex when it’s discovered that Tomoe may have been a prostitute. A rift in Akitada’s marriage and a health scare for Seimei provide further complications. At length, despite a scarcity of clues, the investigation comes full circle, leading to the solution of Haseo’s murder as well.
The elegance and deliberate pace of Akitada’s sixth case (Island of Exiles, 2007, etc.) are appropriate to the hero’s character and satisfying on their own. Abundant historical detail adds interest to the pro forma mystery.