A 19th-century case of murder casts a detective as both hunter and hunted.
As Japan slowly evolves from a feudal society whose samurai control everything to a modern nation whose new military class is bent on territorial expansion, a Japanese delegation visiting England stops at private detective Cyrus Barker’s exquisite Japanese garden. Their numbers include Ambassador Toda Ichigo, Gen. Mononobe, Adm. Edami, and their bodyguards, along with Trelawney Campbell-Ffinch of the Foreign Office, no friend to Barker. Barker is an enigmatic Scot whose past is mostly hidden even from those closest to him, like Thomas Llewelyn, his Welsh assistant, and his loyal Jewish butler, Jacob “Mac” Maccabee. When the ambassador is shot dead, Barker, found nearby with a pistol minus one bullet, is arrested and badly beaten by minions of the Foreign Office. Released, he is immediately hired by the general, who claims not to trust the authorities, to figure out who really killed the ambassador. Barker has spent time in China and Japan and speaks both languages. His Chinese ward, Bok Fu Ying, who was sent to England by the empress as a slave to Barker’s Pekingese, Harm, is now married to Mr. K’ing, an addict who owns a gambling establishment and opium house and has his fingers in many pies, including importing/exporting items to Japan. The Japanese delegates are busy buying everything from works of art to battleships and arms, and the government doesn't want any of the deals upset. So Barker must step carefully as he investigates. As Thomas struggles to understand a culture so unlike his own, Barker, who understands it all too well, finds his task both easier and more dangerous than it appears.
The latest of Thomas’ Victorian gems (Hell Bay, 2016, etc.) is a shocker, cleverly weaving historical tidbits about Japan into Barker’s slowly revealed past.