Eleventh-century Japanese sleuth Akitada (Rashomon Gate, 2002) faces family turmoil and multiple mysteries in a richly appointed historical yarn.
A brutal prologue depicts a quartet of anonymous characters. A woman orders a man to cut the throat of another woman, apparently sleeping deeply, then to mutilate her face with the same sword and place it in the hands of another loudly snoring man. This opening crime stays on a back burner while Parker follows the odyssey of government clerk/nobleman/amateur detective Sugawara Akitada, who’s summoned from his work in the northern provinces to the capital, where his mother lies gravely ill. As he suffers the characteristic abuse of the dying Lady Sugawara, Akitada copes with other family crises. Toshikage, the husband of Akiko, his elder sister, stands accused of pilfering government treasures. Akitada’s other sister, Yoshiko, loves Kojiro, a landowner whose social status makes him an unacceptable husband. But those are the least of his problems. At length, Kojiro is implicated in the novel’s opening murder, which Akitada realizes he was an earwitness to. As in Akitada’s previous adventure, obtuse police inspector Kobe bristles at Akitada’s meticulous sleuthing. An amusing subplot keeps Akitada’s retainer Tora running afoul of jumbo lady sumo wrestler Miss Plumblossom.
Plot and mysteries aplenty. Though his prose could still use less starch, Parker effectively captures this colorful ancient culture.