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Murder in the late days of feudal Japan.
What is the Sano Ichiro series about?
Written by Laura Joh Rowland, the Sano Ichiro series is a historical mystery series that brings us to the late days of feudal Japan, mostly in Edo during the late 17th century.
The story revolves around Sano Ichiro, a samurai and private investigator for the shogun—aka the Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People.
Sometimes with the help of Reiko, Sano must often risk everything to bring to justice the murdered in complex political situations.
How to read the Sano Ichiro Books in Order?
Every book in the Sano Ichiro series works as a standalone story, but the lives of the different characters evolve from one novel to the other.
- Shinju – When beautiful, wealthy Yukiko and low-born artist Noriyoshi are found drowned together in a shinju, or ritual double suicide, everyone believes the culprit was forbidden love. Everyone but newly appointed yoriki Sano Ichiro. Despite the official verdict and warnings from his superiors, the shogun’s Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People suspects the deaths weren’t just a tragedy — they were murder.
- Bundori – Sano Ichiro tracks a serial killer stalking Edo, Japan’s feudal capital, and risks everything to bring to justice a murderer who not only kills but publicly displays his “bundori,” or trophies–the severed heads of his victims.
- The Way of the Traitor – A volatile, corrupt city threatened by foreign invasion and run by an iron-fisted government, Nagasaki is the last place Sano Ichiro wants to be, Unfortunately, the shogun’s Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People has been banished there by a wicked adversary in the shogun’s court. Surrounded by spies, Sano must tread carefully.
- The Concubine’s Tattoo – Sano Ichiro is summoned to the imperial palace to find the murderer of Harume, a young concubine poisoned while applying a lover’s tattoo. Sano’s new bride, Reiko, insists on helping him with the case. Reiko’s samurai blood and warrior’s skill alarm her new husband, who expected a docile wife. But Reiko is only the first of many surprises…
- The Samurai’s Wife – Upon the insistence of his strong-willed and beautiful wife Reiko, Sano Ichiro arrives with her at the emperor’s palace to unmask the murderer–who possesses the secret of kiai, “the spirit city,” a powerful scream that can kill instantly. A high Kyoto official is the victim. Treading carefully through a web of spies, political intrigue, forbidden passions, and intricate plots, Sano and Reiko must struggle to stay ahead of the palace storm–and outwit a cunning killer.
- Black Lotus – In September of 1693, the Black Lotus Temple, a spiritual center for hundreds of Buddhist nuns, monks, priests, and orphans, is burned to the ground leaving three dead and one orphan running for cover. Sano Ichiro is called on to investigate the incident. He quickly discovers that despite appearances, the victims did not die in the fire: they were brutally murdered before the fire even began.
- The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria – In the carefully ordered world of seventeenth-century Japan, the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter is a place where men of all classes can drink, revel, and enjoy the favors of beautiful courtesans. But on a cold winter’s dawn, Sano Ichiro must visit Yoshiwara on a most unpleasant mission. Within a house of assignation reserved for the wealthiest, most prominent men, a terrible murder has occurred.
- The Dragon King’s Palace – On a whim of the shogun’s mother, a procession has left the sweltering heat of Edo, bound for the cooler climate of Mount Fuji. Among her traveling companions are Reiko; Reiko’s friend Midori, nine months pregnant; and Lady Yanagisawa, the deranged wife of the shogun’s powerful second-in-command. None of them look forward to the trip. But their troubles have only begun when their procession is stopped suddenly on a deserted road. The entire retinue is viciously slaughtered and the four women are bound and taken away, imprisoned by a mysterious kidnapper.
- The Perfumed Sleeve – November 1694. The streets of Edo are erupting in violence as two factions struggle for control over the ruling Tokugawa regime. One is led by the shogun’s cousin, Lord Matsudaira, and the other by the shogun’s second-in-command, Chamberlain Yanagisawa. Each side pressures Sano Ichiro to join its ranks. When one of the shogun’s most trusted advisers is found dead, Sano is forced to honor a posthumous request for a murder investigation.
- The Assassin’s Touch – May 1695. During a horse race at Edo Castle the chief of the shogun’s intelligence service, Ejima Senzaemon, drops dead as his horse gallops across the finish line—the fourth in a recent series of sudden deaths of high-ranking officials. Sano Ichiro is ordered to investigate, despite his recent promotion to chamberlain and his new duties as the shogun’s second-in-command.
- The Red Chrysanthemum – July 1698. Sano Ichiro is investigating rumors of a plot to overthrow the ruling regime. When the investigation brings Sano’s deputy Hirata to Lord Mori’s estate, he is shocked to find Lord Mori murdered and grotesquely mutilated in his own bed, and Sano’s pregnant wife, Reiko, lying beside him. The only solid clue is a chrysanthemum soaked in blood.
- The Snow Empress – Japan, 1699: When one of Sano’s political rivals hints that his boy was kidnapped—and may be in Ezogashima—he and his wife, Reiko, begin a desperate journey to find their son…only to discover that the local ruler, Lord Matsumae, is holding the entire province hostage for another crime: The murder of his mistress. So Sano strikes a deal: He will solve the mistress’s murder if Matsumae will free the hostages and return his son.
- The Fire Kimono – Japan, March 1700. Near a Shinto shrine in the hills, a windstorm knocks down a tree to uncover a human skeleton, long buried and forgotten. Meanwhile, in the nearby city of Edo, troops ambush and attack Lady Reiko. The troops who attacked Reiko appear to belong to Sano’s fiercest enemy, Lord Matsudaira, who denies all responsibility. But if the rivals are not to blame for each other’s misfortune, who is?
- The Cloud Pavilion – Japan, 1701. A woman is brutally attacked within a bamboo prison as clouds swirl around her head. Meanwhile, at Edo Castle, samurai detective turned chamberlain Sano Ichiro is suspicious of his old rival, Yanagisawa, who has been oddly cooperative since returning from exile.
- The Ronin’s Mistress – Japan, 1703. On a snowy night, 47 warriors murder the man at the center of the scandal that turned them from samurai into masterless ronin two years before. Clearly, this was an act of revenge–but why did they wait so long? Sano Ichiro has mere days to solve the greatest mystery of samurai legend–while his own fortunes hang in the balance.
- The Incense Game – When a massive earthquake devastates Japan in 1703, even the shogun’s carefully regulated court is left teetering on the brink of chaos. This is no time for a murder investigation—except when a nobleman’s daughters are found dead from incense poisoning and their father threatens to topple the regime unless Sano Ichiro tracks down the killer.
- The Shogun’s Daughter – Japan, 1704. In an elegant mansion, a young woman named Tsuruhime lies on her deathbed, attended by her nurse. Smallpox pustules cover her face. Incense burns, to banish the evil spirits of disease. After Tsuruhime takes her last breath, the old woman watching from the doorway says, “Who’s going to tell the Shogun his daughter is dead?”
- The Iris Fan – Japan, 1709. The shogun is old and ailing. Amid the ever-treacherous intrigue in the court, Sano Ichiro has been demoted from chamberlain to a lowly patrol guard. His relationship with his wife Reiko is in tatters, and a bizarre new alliance between his two enemies Yanagisawa and Lord Ienobu has left him puzzled and wary. Sano’s onetime friend Hirata is a reluctant conspirator in a plot against the ruling regime. Yet, Sano’s dedication to the Way of the Warrior is undiminished.
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