SHINJU by Laura Joh Rowland
Kirkus Star


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A shinju is a double love-suicide -- precisely what the deaths of noblewoman Niu Yukiko and peasant artist Noriyoshi aren't, despite first appearances. But then what are they? That's the question for Sano Ichiro, newly appointed Senior Police Commissioner of Edo (17th-century Tokyo). When a doctor sentenced to service in the Edo morgue convinces Sano that Noriyoshi, at least, was killed before he entered the water in which he and Yukiko supposedly drowned themselves, Sano feels honor-bound to follow up the clue. But with no evidence -- autopsies are illegal and can't be used to prove anything -- and no support from his boss or his patron, Sano doesn't know where to turn. Yukiko's cold stepmother listens to him politely and then has him thrown out; Noriyoshi's employer, a dealer in erotic art, insists he doesn't know anything; and Sano's journey to visit Yukiko's sister, who just might be able to help him, in the nunnery to which she's been banished only ends in disaster. As Sano pieces together the reason for Noriyoshi's death -- he was blackmailing a Kabuki actor, a street wrestler, and perhaps others -- his higher-ups close ranks against him, and he finds himself, in an eerie Japanese echo of Presumed Innocent, stripped of his job and hunted for murder. Even after he's pieced together the puzzle, how will he able to convince the authorities whose interest is in keeping him quiet by whatever means? This impressive first novel features a plot that's perfectly adapted to its historical background: Sano's growing terror of humiliation and dishonor comes across much more keenly than any contemporary setting would allow.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
Page count: 356pp
Publisher: Random