A Japanese sleuth must venture to a remote territory to find his missing son.
Edo, 1699. Masahiro, the eight-year-old son of chamberlain Sano Ichiro and his wife Reiko (Red Chrysanthemum, 2006, etc.), disappears one otherwise uneventful afternoon. Shortly thereafter, Sano is summoned to the palace of the shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, where Sano’s chief rival, unpleasant Lord Matsudaira, who has barely escaped the bombing of his villa, accuses Sano of the crime. Sano instantly realizes that his Matsudaira is responsible for kidnapping Masahiro. The shogun instructs Sano to depart for the faraway island province of Ezogashima, where the ruling lord, Matsumae, appears to be in danger from barbarians. When Matsudaira admits that Masahiro has been taken to Ezogashima, Sano swiftly organizes the daunting expedition, which includes Reiko and his deputy Hirata. A hairy outcast appropriately known as the Rat accompanies them as translator. In Ezo, the visitors find fear and suspicion around every corner. Their first meeting with the distrustful Lord Matsumae, distraught over the recent murder of his mistress Tekare, nearly ends in their execution. Similarly, Lady Matsumae is in mourning over the poisoning of her beloved daughter, Nobuko. Reiko, as is her wont, strikes out on her own, assisted by an ambitious maid named Lilac.
Rowland’s 12th Ichiro mystery threatens to become overheated and overplotted, but abundant historical color and an elegant, controlled style keep it nicely grounded.