Publication Order of Sano Ichiro Books
|Shinju||(1994)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|Bundori||(1996)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Way of the Traitor||(1997)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Concubine's Tattoo||(1998)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Samurai's Wife||(2000)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|Black Lotus||(2001)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria||(2002)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Dragon King's Palace||(2003)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Perfumed Sleeve||(2004)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Assassin's Touch||(2005)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Red Chrysanthemum||(2006)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Snow Empress||(2007)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Fire Kimono||(2008)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Cloud Pavilion||(2009)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Ronin's Mistress||(2011)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Incense Game||(2012)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Shogun's Daughter||(2013)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Iris Fan||(2014)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
There is something in Japanese culture and lifestyle of the past that seems so appealing to Westerners. Those big, ancient houses with the door leading straight to the sumptuous green gardens and fish ponds provide us with an image of the perpetual peace, something we can not even think about these days, as it appears. And it is not just about the natural environment, but people as well. Everybody is more or less introduced with the rules of Bushido and the sense of honor samurai used to respect. Those warriors are even today role models for people all around the world. And imagine one of these samurai with the note of the leading man in film noir, say Humphrey Bogart. It seems impossible to conceive that combination, yet Laura Joh Rowland did just that with her character Sano Ichiro in the long and successful series of books that lasts for 21 years now.You may ask yourself how is it possible to make detective mystery in the Japanese Edo period, and answer would be- easy if you have literary skill. And Laura Joh Rowland indeed possesses a great deal of it.
Born in 1954 in Michigan as a daughter of Chinese and Korean immigrants, she certainly has the touch to bring her readers closer to this shared Eastern quality of indifference to time. Clock stops when you read ancient Japanese tales or watch Japanese movies where everything is done slowly, but with great conviction and emotional nuance. This acclaimed series consists of 18 books so far with the last one published in 2014. Set in the late 17th and the beginning of the 18th century, saga tells us the story of ventures of Sano Ichiro, newly appointed yoriki at a governmental office. He leaves the job of a tutor to accept a flattering new position. Role of yoriki changed throughout the history and in Edo period it denoted administrative jobs, as well as the position of the chief of the police. Edo was the period of great economic growth, and the solidification of the shogunate. Even though the period was marked with the endeavors of self-isolation, at the time when this book is set foreign influences, especially Dutch were pushing their way to the society. This was also the period of intellectual and scientific flourishing, as well as the forming of famous Bushido code, very important for Rowland’s work.
Her books follow trials and tribulations of a (anti)hero who tries to cope with the changing times, to stay faithful to the old values who are bound to be lost in the process of progress, as well as to make his internal justice in a way that resembles Toshiro Mifune’s Sanjuro Kuwabatake in Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo”. As it was said previously, this long tale takes off with Sano’s appointment as a local chief of police so to speak. He is not very fond of the great amount of paperwork he has to deal with, so he goes in the action as the detective. His first task in the opening book of the series “Shinju” is to investigate the ritual suicide two lovers commit- hence the title of the book, which is the Japanese term for those kinds of suicides. The case involves girl from the rich family and what appears to be a poor man, and it seems as a simple case, almost too simple. Sano’s doubts are deepened when he is advised from the political top not to snoop around too much. This kindles his curiosity, and sense of justice that will follow him all throughout the saga and cost him a lot. He goes to seek for help from a local doctor named Ito who performs autopsy and comes to some interesting conclusions. Well in for a penny, in for a pound, Sano thinks as he takes the long way of unraveling hidden secrets.
Rituals have a lot to do with second Sano’s appearance too, this time in “Bundori”, which was published in 1996. The title denotes the ritual of public display of the head of one’s enemy which is put on a spike, In this book, state is controlled by unscrupulous shogun and yet again, Ichiro’s detective abilities will make a great difference.What is really interesting about Sano’s character is the conflict of two irreconcilable differences that he tries the tackle all throughout the book(s)- his attempts to follow the Bushido, as well as to indulge his needs. Sense of obligation clashes sense of gratification of wishes, and in a way clashes with a chance of happiness. Sano seems cursed never to be truly happy, as he constantly struggles between the two extremes. This is the touch so common in noir movies of the golden era of Hollywood and all of the characters, not just Ichiro’s make this unusual blend work.Now, these could be just those type of mystery novels you read by day and forget until the night. However, what makes them great is Rowland’s dedication to details, In her books, you can see practically every shred of Japanese life thoroughly enlarged- from the tea ceremonies and obscure ritual traditions, to the effect the change that occurrences in the closing stage of Edo period affects ordinary citizens, powerful leaders and those in between.
Rowland really did a good job here, without creating false pastiche or cheap emotional hits, but making a world which might very well be the one Japanese inhabited two centuries ago. And it seems almost unbelievable that she visited Japan only once, and learned about Japan from movies and books, like most of us. However, it did not bother Karl May to write Winnetou before he came anywhere near American soil, so why should it bother Rowland? In the end, what is there to say than to recommend immersing in Rowland’s work as soon as possible. You want a mystery? You’ve got it. You want complex character? You’ve got it, and not just the titular one, but a great deal of them You want the insight in the Japanese life 230 years ago? You’ve got it. You want to be transported to some other time where important values were more respected, but people struggled to keep up with them in the complexity of a changing world? You’ve surely got it. Pay attention and you just might get something out of it.Book Series In Order » Characters » Sano Ichiro