"It is January 1689 in Edo, the city that would one day become Tokyo. The bodies of a beautiful noblewoman and a male commoner, bound together, are dragged from the murky Sumida River: a typical shinju, a ritual double suicide committed by a pair of star-crossed lovers. But when Sano Ichiro, a teacher, samurai, and reluctant police officer, begins a routine investigation, he comes to suspect murder. Disobeying direct orders to close the case discreetly, he pursues elusive answers from the ornate mansions of the highest born daimyos, to the gaudy pleasure quarters of the lowest classes, from a cloistered mountaintop convent to a horrid prison where death is a blessing. He risks his family's good name and his own life to solve a crime that nobody wants solved. As he unravels the twisted story behind the deaths, he stumbles upon a trail of deceit and assassination that threatens the very underpinnings of the shogun's Japan."
"To my parents, Lena and Raymond Joh"
Rowland thanks the following people: her friend and mentor, George Alec Effinger; her agent, Peter Grey Ahearn; her editor, David Rosenthal; her husband, Marty Rowland; and the members of her writer's workshop, Larry Barbe, Cary Bruton, Kim Campbell, O'Neil DeNoux, Debbie Hodgkinson, Jack Jernigan, Micheal Keane, Mark McCandless, Marian Moore, John Webre, and Fritz Ziegler.
A lone horseman rides to the Sumida River. His cargo is two corpses, the bodies of a peasant man and a samurai woman tied together with some rope. Once he arrives at the river, he loads the corpses into a boat. He rows south for a ways before stopping by a pier. Slipping a lacquer case into the dead woman's sash, he shoves the bodies overboard. Grabbing a section of rope, he secures the bodies by wrapping the rope onto a piling. After checking his work, the horseman begins to row upstream.
The next day, Yoriki Sano Ichirō receives a summons from Magistrate Ogyu. Ogyu explains that an artist named Noriyoshi and a young woman named Niu Yukiko were found dead, their bodies tied together in the usual style of a lover's suicide. Because Yukiko was the daughter of a well known samurai family, Ogyu orders Sano to handle the matter both quickly and discreetly. Sano initially goes along with it, dictating to his awkward secretary, Hamada Tsunehiko, the report that Ogyu wants. However, Sano's instincts tell him that there is more to this case than meets the eye. Despite potentially risking demotion and disgrace, Sano stops Tsunehiko, rips up the report, then writes a new one stating that Noriyoshi and Yukiko's deaths look suspicious.
Sano begins the investigation by studying the bodies. Later that day, he travels to Edo Jail where he meets Dr. Ito Genboku and his eta assistant, Mura. Yukiko's corpse was already given over to her family, but Noriyoshi's body is still at the morgue. Ito's autopsy reveals bruises on Noriyoshi's head and a lack of water in his lungs, indicating that was beaten to death before being placed in the river. Sano suspects that Yukiko's life was ended in a similar fashion.
The following morning, Sano visits the Niu estate, ostensibly to pay his respects to the grieving family. He questions Lady Niu and her son, Masahito, but Sano does not learn anything useful. Though he meets a maid named O-hisa and Lady Niu's bodyguard, Eii, Sano cannot question them directly: O-hisa is too distraught to answer and Eii is unresponsive. All that Sano manages to accomplish is to tip off Lady Niu about his investigation, leading her to dismiss Sano.
On his way out, Midori- one of Yukiko's sisters- catches his attention when she tells him that Yukiko was not the type of person that Lady Niu had described: a hopeless romantic that was easily influenced by the theater. While she does not have any proof, Midori insists that Yukiko was murdered. Before Sano can inquire further, Lady Niu shows up and forces Sano to leave.
Even though she declared that Yukiko's death was not a suicide, Midori is not that confident in her own theory. She remembers seeing Yukiko acting much differently than her usual self not too long before her death. In order to see what was going through her sister's head, Midori sneaks into Yukiko's bedchamber and finds some of her dairies. One entry piques her interest: apparently, Yukiko learned some horrible secret that she could not repeat to anyone, but still felt compelled to tell someone about. Before Midori can figure out what her sister meant, Lady Niu catches Midori and has her forcibly removed from the room.
Meanwhile, Sano goes to Yoshiwara in search of the Okubata Fine Arts Company, the place where Noriyoshi lived and worked. He meets Okubata, the owner of the company, and questions the man. While Okubata's body language gives away his lies, Sano does not force the man to reveal what he knows for multiple reasons, the main one being that it could lead to his superiors finding out that he disobeyed orders. During the interrogation, Sano manages to learn that Noriyoshi had no living relatives as well as the names of a few of Noriyoshi's friends.
Upon searching Noriyoshi's room, he finds out the man was a shunga artist who happened to own a large sum of money. Sano finds it highly unlikely that Noriyoshi got the money through honest means, as being a shunga artist is not a highly paid profession. Okubata snatches the money from Sano and tries to write it off as profit from the shunga, but Sano can easily tell that Okubata is lying once again.
While Sano interviews the rest of the staff, Okubata gets into a heated conversation with Healing Hands, an elderly blind masseur. Sano interrupts the two men and asks Healing Hands about Noriyoshi. The masseur tells Sano about a friend of Noriyoshi's that Okubata deliberately did not mention: a women by the name of Wisteria who works at a pleasure house. Okubata warns Healing Hands not to say anything more, advice that the masseur takes to heart.
Sano suddenly remembers he had planned to meet his parents tomorrow. Deciding to seek out Wisteria at a later date, Sano heads back to police headquarters.
The following night, Sano arrives at his childhood home in Nihonbashi. His father, Sano Shutarō, has been sick for some time and his illness has only gotten worse since Sano's last visit. During dinner, Shutarō reminds Sano to continue following the edicts of Bushido and to avoid becoming a rōnin. While initially resentful at the reminder, Sano is aware that his father's life might end soon. Sano would rather give up the investigation and ease his father's worries than continue on the dangerous path he set up for himself.
The next day, Sano goes about his usual yoriki duties, but the murders remain on his mind. Despite his best efforts, he cannot keep himself from wondering if Wisteria is the key to figuring out what happened to Noriyoshi and Yukiko. That night, he is unable to fight the burning curiosity within him. He takes this as a sign that the investigation must be continued. Donning a disguise and gathering his money, Sano mounts his horse before riding to Yoshiwara.
Sano easily finds the brothel where Wisteria works. He is able to catch her at a time when she is not entertaining any clients. Ensconced in her room, Sano asks Wisteria questions regarding Noriyoshi's background. He learns that Noriyoshi was an amiable individual who helped Wisteria rise from lowly maid to sought after courtesan. He had not expected any sexual favors from Wisteria, mostly due to his preference for men. Noriyoshi was not without fault, though; he had a habit of blackmailing people which earned him plenty of enemies. Wisteria can name two individuals who might have hated Noriyoshi enough to kill him: a kabuki actor named Kikunojo and a sumo wrestler named Raiden.
Thanking Wisteria, Sano makes to leave but Wisteria wants him to stay. Throughout their exchange, Wisteria had been employing subtle seduction techniques that have had their intended affect on Sano. Unable to resist any longer, he submits to lust. After their coupling, Sano wakes up a few hours later to find Wisteria grieving over her lost friend. Sano's attempts to comfort her backfire. Feeling guilty about taking advantage of a mourning woman, Sano concludes that the only way he can make amends is to bring Noriyoshi's killer to justice.
In Ogyu's office the next day, Sano tries to get Ogyu to reconsider his position regarding the shinjū. Despite his best attempts, Sano fails. In fact, Ogyu subtly threatens to dismiss Sano, thereby throwing Sano into disgrace and potentially worsening Shutarō's illness. Angry at Ogyu for the threat, Sano does not explicitly agree to do what Ogyu orders, instead leaving his response vague.
Later at police headquarters, Sano ponders how she should proceed. He finds himself unable to dispute Ogyu's reservations with the limited evidence he has gathered thus far. He concludes that he will need to find ironclad proof that Noriyoshi and Yukiko were murdered in order to get Ogyu to see his side. This would mean going against his superior's orders once again, but Sano cannot ignore the urge that pushes him to pursue the truth.
Sano heads to the theater where Kikunojo is performing. When he arrives, a performance is in progress. Once the play is over, Sano walks up to Kikunojo and asks to speak with him in private. At first, the actor attempts to make up excuses, but after hearing that the topic is Noriyoshi, Kikunojo complies. Leading Sano to his dressing room, Kikunojo changes into civilian clothes while Sano interrogates him. Though initially reluctant to answer some of Sano's questions, the actor eventually relents: Noriyoshi had found out that Kikunojo was having an affair with a married lady. Noriyoshi had used the information as leverage over Kikunojo, demanding payment in return for his silence. Kikunojo had begrudgingly coughed up the cash until about a month ago, when he got fed up and stopped paying.
Kikunojo denies killing Noriyoshi, stating that he had been busy on the day that the artist died. He refuses to give Sano the name of his lover, but he does not deny a connection to Yukiko. Now dressed up in more casual clothes, the actor offers up Raiden's name as a potential suspect before bidding Sano farewell, exiting the theater to attend a rendezvous with his lover.
Despite the actor's denials, Sano thinks it is possible that Kikunojo committed the murders. On impulse, he follows the actor but winds up losing his trail. Unable to catch up with him, Sano remembers that Wisteria had also brought up a man named Raiden. Abandoning the chase, Sano leaves the theater district to search for the sumo wrestler.
In a cheap entertainment distract near the Nihonbashi Bridge, Sano finds Raiden soon after coming across a street-corner sumo match. Sano watches as Raiden engages his opponent, his personality seeming to change on a dime in the middle of the fight. The wrestler becomes far more violent than is necessary, eventually leading to a riot among the spectators. Thankfully, a pair of doshin were on standby and they break up the crowd. When he calms down, Raiden seems to have forgotten all about the riot, even going on to challenge others to fight him.
Sano offers to pay Raiden a meal which the wrestler happily accepts. As they eat, Raiden rambles about his background. He used to be in Lord Torii's employ before being thrown out for almost killing Lord Torii's master-of-arms. This incident might not have come to light had Noriyoshi not seen. The artist had wanted blackmail money, but Raiden could not pay Noriyoshi's asking price. Noriyoshi had talked, leading Lord Torii to dismiss Raiden.
Though he has a motive and the strength to murder someone, Sano does not believe Raiden to be the killer. Not only does Raiden lack the intelligence to have pulled off the crime, his connection to the Nius is far weaker than the actor's. Raiden is not a complete dead end, though: while he cannot recall exactly who, Raiden cites one of the members of the Niu clan as another blackmail victim of Noriyoshi's.
Meanwhile, at the Niu estate, Lady Niu enters Masahito's room holding a tray of moxa candles. Masahito was born with a bad right leg, one that pains him constantly. His disability disgusts his father to the point that Lord Niu refuses to have anything to do with him. No matter what he accomplishes, nothing Masahito does is enough to earn his father's approval. And, much to Lady Niu's exasperation, he constantly spurns her affections and advice, as he does now. He ignores her pleas to stop his activities before the police can catch wind of them. Masahito even dismisses Sano as a non-threat.
Later, Yukiko's funeral procession is under way. After speaking to Raiden, Sano changed into traditional funeral garb then slipped into the crowd. Now, he manages to get to O-hisa and ask her if he can speak to Midori, but she slips away. Her flight causes a small ruckus, alerting Eii to his presence. Lady Niu orders Eii to forcibly remove Sano. Eii gets as far as the shrine's gate when Masahito stops him. The young lord warns Sano not to interfere with the Niu's private affairs. He also notifies Sano that Midori was taken to a nunnery in Hakone. As Masahito departs to rejoin the procession, Sano's suspicions are only deepened further.
After the funeral, Sano is able to get Ogyu to grant him a leave of absence under the condition that he bring his secretary. Though Sano does not want to bring the awkward youth along, Ogyu leaves him no choice. The next day, Sano and his secretary, Tsunehiko, are riding along the Tokaido. Their pace is far slower than Sano would have liked, but Tsunehiko's enthusiasm amuses Sano. However, as the trip goes on, Sano becomes aware that someone is following them. Tsunehiko is oblivious, enjoying his time away from police headquarters, but Sano remains alert.
As night sets in, Sano and Tsunehiko stop at an inn in Totsuka. He wants to shake off their pursuer, but both he and Tsunehiko need rest and food. The innkeeper shows them to a room, extolling his inn's merits, which include its top notch security. This does little to reassure Sano, who goes to bed with one of his swords unsheathed and in arms reach. His diligence pays off when the stalker breaks into their room. Unfortunately, the stalker kills Tsunehiko first then manages to flee into the night before Sano can restrain him.
He alerts the local police, but they deliberate so long about sending out a search party that Sano knows their chances of catching the stalker are slim to none. Since he has no true authority in Totsuka, Sano is forced to sit out the search in his room. While he waits, he muses over what the attack means for his investigation. Sano intuits that the stalker's true target was himself, and- unable to tell them apart- had intended to kill both him and Tsunehiko as a precaution. The fact that Noriyoshi and Yukiko's murderer wants him dead tells Sano that he is getting closer to uncovering the truth. He mourns the loss of his secretary's life. The temptation to call off the investigation grows strong; the last thing Sano wants is to cause more deaths. However, a sense of revenge overtakes that urge. If anything, Tsunehiko's death has strengthened his resolve to complete the investigation and bring the murderer to justice.
Two days after the attack, Sano arrives in Hakone. He climbs his way to the Temple of Kannon and is greeted by the abbess. When Sano asks to speak to Midori, the abbess firmly refuses him, even ignoring his attempt at bribery. A pair of spear-wielding priests forcibly escort him out of temple grounds and stand by the gate, making sure he truly leaves. Knowing it would be fruitless to fight his way back in, Sano begins the long trek back down the mountain.
Just as he thinks the whole trip and Tsunehiko's death were for nothing, he hears Midori calling out to him; she saw him through the window where the novices are kept and- knowing she might not get another chance- climbed out the building before rushing to meet him. She confirms that Lady Niu sent her to the temple to get her away from Sano. At first, it does not seem like she has useful information: Yukiko did not mention Noriyoshi at all. She did sneak out one night, but that was a month ago.
Sano stresses that anything she can tell him, even if it is just family drama, can potentially help him. This makes Midori realize that one of her own relatives could have murdered Yukiko. This makes Midori reveal the last thing Yukiko wrote: she stumbled across Masahito doing something dangerous, something that, if anyone found out, would doom not just him, but his whole family too. Yukiko was afraid of death, but her steadfast principals compel her to speak up. Unfortunately, she did not write down what, exactly, Masahito did to warrant such a strong reaction. Regardless, Sano guesses that it must have been incredibly serious.
Having related everything she could, Midori becomes morose at the idea that Masahito most likely killed Yukiko. The temple bells ring at that moment. Midori excuses herself; she must get back before the abbess finds out she disappeared. Before she leaves, she tells Sano that she wants Yukiko's murderer brought to justice no matter if it is Masahito or not. As she scurries back up the mountainside, Sano restarts his descent. The sooner he can get back to Edo and figure out how to implicate Masahito in three murders, the better.
Back in Edo, Ogyu is preparing for Lady Niu's arrival. Nervous and on edge, Ogyu knows that displeasing Lady Niu could spell his doom. During the previous spring, Lady Niu learned that he took a bribe in exchange for letting a criminal go free. While he had accepted such bribes before, if the shogun were to find out about this one in particular, he would certainly punish Ogyu with demotion or even death. Since then, Ogyu has lived in fear of Lady Niu, hating her for the power she holds over his head.
When she does arrive, he does his best to stay one step ahead of Lady Niu. Yet, as they partake in a tea ceremony, Lady Niu is able to destabilize him with mere innuendo alone. He decodes her words as she speaks: somehow, she has learned about Sano's visits with Kikunojo and Raiden. Furthermore, Sano had gone to Hakone to speak to Midori. The meeting comes to a head when Lady Niu informs Ogyu that the shogun's spies are going to start their own investigation. Should a scandal come to light, Lord Niu's considerable wealth will most likely be confiscated. Lady Niu makes it clear to the magistrate that she wants him to deal with Sano once and for all.
After she exits his estate, Ogyu briefly ponders Lady Niu's insistence before his sense of self-preservation pushes it aside. He asks his servants to call on Yamaga and Hayashi, a couple of Sano's colleagues; he wants to keep Lady Niu satisfied, but he will not dirty his own hands to do it.
As Raiden is finishing his lunch, a pair of armored yoriki on horseback approach him. They arrest him and take him to Edo Jail to be tortured. Raiden manages to withstand being whipped and his back being torn open with a spear. When they begin to pour molten copper into his wounds, his willpower crumbles; he falsely confesses. In a daze, he is vaguely aware of being taken to the Court of Justice where a magistrate sentences him to death. Immediately afterward, the yoriki transport Raiden to an execution ground where they build then tie him to a cross. Once the cross is upright, the executioner plunges a spear into Raiden's chest, killing him instantly.
Sano returns to Edo to the sight of its citizens preparing for New Year's Eve celebrations. The cheerful atmosphere does not boost Sano's mood in the slightest; when Ogyu finds out about his visit with Midori, there is no telling what punishment the magistrate will dole out to him. He gets a shock, however, when he goes to meet Ogyu, Yamaga, Hayashi, and his benefactor Katsuragawa Shundai. Ogyu changed his mind: not only does he agree with Sano that the shinjū was just smoke screen, he has gone ahead and executed their killer.
As Yamaga and Hayashi describe what they did to Raiden, Sano grows horrified. His attempts at arguing prove fruitless. Ogyu closes the matter, dismissing the two yoriki. Once they are out of earshot, he does what Sano has been worried about since he started the investigation: Ogyu revokes his position as a yoriki. The rest of Ogyu's admonishments fall on deaf ears, and he shuts down any arguments from Sano before he can say them.
In a daze, Sano exits Ogyu's office, Katsuragawa following behind. Katsuragawa berates Sano for not going along with the cover-up. Despite everything, Sano still cannot let the investigation go: he knows Masahito is the true murderer and is determined to bring him to justice.
Sano briefly stops by his childhood home to tell his parents about his dismissal. Shutarō becomes forlorn, giving Sano the cold shoulder. Though his mother attempts to welcome him home, Sano cannot sit still. Subconsciously looking for some guidance, he travels to Edo Jail to talk to Ito. Ito gives him some advice that helps Sano come to a decision as to where he can go from here.
The following morning, Sano hangs out in front of the Niu estate, disguised as a street cleaner. He watches the entrance gates in th hopes that Masahito will come out. He gets his wish: Masahito leaves the estate via a palanquin. Sano follows the young lord as he goes about his day, his query eventually leading him to a distant villa. To his surprise, he sees Okubata beg a pair of guards to let him speak to Masahito, which gets granted when the young lord appears at the entrance. Okubata requests a larger payment this time around. Masahito accepts, telling Okubata that he can receive his payment at his estate tomorrow. A couple guards brings Okubata's cargo- a drugged samurai boy- into the villa before the shunga dealer hurries off.
As Sano continues his survey, he manages to get a peak inside a couple of the villa's rooms. In one room, he sees preparations for some type of gathering, such as a banquet. In another room, he sees Masahito pleasuring himself to the sight of the drugged boy. Sano watches with mounting horror as Masahito takes a knife to the boys neck.
Sano realizes someone else is there with him. He turns to see O-hisa about to send out the alarm. Instead, he convinces her to keep quiet. O-hisa, wanting to unburden herself, explains that she is partially responsible for Yukiko's death. When she stumbled across him during one of his rituals, O-hisa was under the impression he was killing the boys he purchases. As a new hire, she did not know that he usually leaves them alive. This misunderstanding lead her to alert Yukiko, who caught Masahito in the act. Their confrontation resulted in the death of the boy Masahito was currently using for pleasure. In his fury, Masahito threatened to kill Yukiko if she were to speak out.
At last, Sano seems to have arrived at a motivation for the murders: Yukiko's ideals would have eventually broken her silence and it is possible that Noriyoshi had found out and blackmailed Masahito. With this evidence, he will finally be able to take Masahito to task. He implores O-hisa to testify in front of the Council of Elders. Though she hesitates to comply at first, she does end up giving in. She agrees to meet him at a swordmaker's business before rushing off to the servants' quarters.
With this piece of information, the investigation is over for the most part, yet Sano stays at the villa; he wants to know what the preparations are for. The answer sends alarm through him: Masahito, as well as twenty other sons of daimyo lords, are plotting an attack against the government. Each member writes their names in blood on a scroll before Masahito recites a poem.
A guard enters the room, alerting the traitors to an impostor. Understanding that the guard is referring to him, Sano makes haste, managing to escape from the villa and into the night.
The next day, Sano waits for O-hisa at the designated place. Noon comes and goes and still the maid does not show. Panicked that his one chance at salvation changed their mind or was killed, Sano leaves the meeting spot and rushes to the Niu estate. He arrives just as Masahito is leaving. Unwilling to give up this opportunity, he trails Masahito. He is able to follow him a ways before a procession blocks his path. By the time the procession is over, Masahito is long gone. Scaling up a watch-tower, Sano scans the city. He does not spot Masahito but he does see Okubata. Remembering that Okubata was supposed to get his cash today, Sano exits the water-tower to pursue the shunga dealer instead.
Okubata eventually leads Sano to a teahouse where a fat man awaits. Sano enters the teahouse and sits a few paces away from where Okubata and his companion have settled. In between loud comments from the chef, Sano overhears their conversation. He figures out that the fat man is actually Kikunojo in disguise. Okubata is trying to obtain payment from the actor before he absconds from Edo. Asking Masahito for a higher payment was a mistake, for Masahito might believe that- just like Noriyoshi- he is a spy who takes cash in exchange for keeping silent about the conspiracy.
This last fact shocks Sano but not nearly as much as the next: Masahito does not just plan to attack the government, he wants to murder the shogun himself.
At that moment, an old acquaintance of Sano's comes up to him and tries to start a conversation. Aware of Sano's presence, Kikunojo and Okubata scramble out of the teahouse and run off. Sano chooses to go after Okubata, hoping he will be able to tell him more about Masahito's plot. However, when catches the shunga dealer, Okubata cannot offer him anymore information than the name of the man that Noriyoshi's superior: Toda Ikkyu.
Meanwhile, O-hisa is preparing doll's clothes for Lord Niu's daughters at his estate. She wants to meet Sano, but is unable to leave the servants' quarters due to the head seamstress and one other maid keeping a close eye on her. As the hour to see him slips by, she unsuccessfully tries to join in the New Year's Eve preparations before she strikes up an idea. Asking to use the privy, she is escorted by the other maid. After shutting the door, O-hisa climbs into the space that holds the catch basin and exits the privy through a hatch. Once outside she runs to the gate. She almost manages to exit the estate when someone sneaks up behind her and strangles her to death.
After dealing with Okubata, Sano goes to Edo Castle to talk to Toda. The spy brushes off Sano's concerns regarding the conspiracy. Toda and his colleagues have collected a vast amount of information on Masahito, both what is known to the public and what is most private, and there is nothing to suggest that he would commit such a treasonous act. He claims that Noriyoshi was not under his employ, just someone they kept an eye on. Furthermore, the only reason he agreed to speak to Sano was on the off chance he might have information worth hearing. However, he believes Sano fabricated the story to get back at the Niu's for having a hand in his demotion. Having said all this, he dismisses Sano.
Disheartened, Sano travels to his parents' house. Though the last thing he wants to see is his father, the comfort of home is too tempting to ignore. When he passes over a bridge, he notices a group of dogs hovering next to a corpse. Scrambling down the bank, he gets the dogs away from the corpse. To his horror, he recognizes the corpse as O-hisa's.
A doshin and two assistants rush towards Sano. Sano realizes that he is being framed for the maid's murder. Knowing there is no easy escape path available, Sano draws his sword and cuts down one of the assistants. While the other men are momentarily stunned from the sudden violence, Sano hurries past them and back over the bridge. His flight takes him to one of his past neighbors' home. Stealing the neighbor's horse, Sano manages to escape Nihonbashi in one piece. Now on the run from the law, Sano is more determined than ever to stop Masahito and clear his own name.
Stealing a cloak, a mask, and a different horse, Sano rides to a temple. Using the cloak to hide his weapons and the mask to conceal his face, he requests a local priest to provide him a writing space and utensils. The priest obliges, showing Sano to a room before leaving him alone. Sano writes a letter to his parents that explains his intentions, as well as the fact that he might never see them again. He gives the priest the letter, asking him to deliver it before leaving the temple.
His next destination is the Niu estate, his next objective to steal the scroll. It is the only piece of conclusive evidence regarding the conspiracy and, by extension, Noriyoshi and Yukiko's murders. Sano is able to sneak into the estate, but before he can search very hard for the scroll he gets caught by Eii and Lady Niu. The daimyo's wife does not kill Sano right away, instead having her bodyguard tie him up and confiscate his weapons. It becomes clear that she just wants to toy with him, but Sano cannot do much more than go along with her.
The following conversation results in an eye opening revelations for the both of them: Lady Niu was behind the murders. She had lured Yukiko and Noriyoshi to the villa, ordered Eii to kill them, then have him arrange their bodies to look like a shinjū. Eii had also killed Tsunayoshi and O-hisa. However, she had done it to cover up Masahito's other crimes. She did not know about her son's plans to murder the shogun.
When she questions the veracity of Sano's accusation, he tells her about the scroll. Unable to resist a direct challenge, Lady Niu has Eii drag Sano along to Masahito's room. Her search turns up nothing, and she orders Eii to finish Sano off. As he is dragged out of the room, Sano glimpses a hidden compartment. He points it out to Lady Niu, who tries to dismiss it as an architectural flaw, but her need to exonerate her son is too great. Eii forces the compartment open and, sure enough, it holds the scroll containing the mission and names of the conspirators.
Unable to deny the facts any longer, Lady Niu begins to weep. Sano tries to convince her to talk to Masahito or to go with him to the Council of Elders. Lady Niu shoots down the first option; she has never been able to get her wayward son to do anything she says. She rambles about how Masahito was planning to meet someone dressed as a princess from the The Tale of Genji during the New Year's Eve festivities. Then, as she contemplates Sano's second proposal, her composure mostly returns. She orders Eii to untie Sano, return his weapons, and then meet her in her chambers. When Sano asks for the scroll, she hands it over with a bow, an oddly formal behavior given the circumstances.
His swords again attached to his waist and his mask in hand, Sano waits for Lady Niu and Eii to return. Yet, as time passes, a sense of dread slowly fills him. He hurries to Lady Niu's chambers, but arrives too late; Lady Niu has already stabbed herself in the throat. Sano can only watch as Eii cuts off her head, completing the jigai, the samurai women's version of ritual suicide.
Eii stares at his beloved mistress' corpse. He remembers her turning him into her servant, of everything he did thereafter to repay her for saving him from a life of abuse. Now he can only feel a sense of overwhelming loss, and of completing one last request from Lady Niu.
Sano tries to get Eii to speak to him, but the bodyguard remains inert. That is when Sano notices a letter that Lady Niu wrote moments before her death. In the letter, she confess to ordering Noriyoshi, Yukiko, and O-hisa's murders as well as the failed attempt on Sano's life. She posthumously begs Masahito to discard his treasonous plan so as not to bring the ultimate dishonor on him and his house.
Though glad for more evidence, Sano is nevertheless despondent. Eii- for the first time in years- speaks a halting few words, asking Sano to read him the letter. Sano does, then tries one more time to get Eii to help him stop Masahito. The bodyguard ignores him, seemingly trapped in his own world as he sits by his mistress' corpse.
As despair settles upon him, Sano goes over the various bits of information he has heard so far. He manages to figure out that the poem that Masahito recited to his fellow conspirators was his way of notifying them about the time and place they will attack the shogun: during the New Year's Eve festivities in Yoshiwara. Lady Niu's earlier remark makes more sense now: the shogun is the one who will be dressed as a princess. Since the festivities start tonight, Sano wastes no time in rushing over to Yoshiwara.
Eii stays behind, regretting asking Sano to tell him the contents of Lady Niu's letter. He had hoped, expected even, that his mistress would have one last message for him. Instead, it was all for her son, the same man who had given her so much trouble since his birth and had wound up destroying her. Still, Eii cannot find it within himself to hate her. Drawing upon all of his samurai discipline, he unsheathes his short sword then plunges it into his abdomen.
In Yoshiwara, Sano desperately searches for the shogun, hoping to warn him before Masahito begins his attack. During his search, some doshin recognize him and chase after him. While he is able to avoid them for the most part, in no small thanks to the holiday chaos, Sano is just barely able to remain one step ahead of them.
He thinks to ask Wisteria in case she has any information. However, if she did have any information, she is far less willing to say; since their night together, Wisteria was demoted from tayu to a low-class prostitute. She resents him for his hand in her debasement, and runs away from him.
Avoiding some more doshin, Sano manages to come across Tsunayoshi's entourage. As temple bells ring, signaling midnight and ushering in the New Year, Sano spots masked figures laying in wait atop a pair of nearby rooftops. Equipped with a bow and arrow, the figure aims at the shogun. Though Sano shouts as loud as he can, the shogun's entourage cannot hear him over the sound of the bells. They only become aware of the figure's presence when it looses some arrows.
One of the arrows kills Sanos's horse, but the shogun is shoved to the ground before it can any can hit him. The festive atmosphere quickly devolves into panicked chaos as civilians run for their life. A battle erupts between the traitors, the shogun's guards and Sano. Within the ensuing pandemonium, Sano crosses swords with Masahito, the young lord giving Sano a vicious cut on his left shoulder. As they fight, Sano just barely manages to keep up with Masahito until he gets a grasp on a discarded jitte. Unlike the young lord, Sano has had practice battling with a jitte, giving him an advantage. He gives Masahito some wounds, slowing him down enough for Sano to grasp his sword and put an end to the young lord.
From a mixture of fatigue and blood loss, Sano drops to the ground. With pain clouding his judgment, Sano believes that the shogun's men- what is left of them- are carrying him to the execution ground instead of to a boat. He sees the shogun's worried face hovering over him and senses a pair of hands tending to his wounds, before slipping into unconsciousness.
On New Year's Day, Sano muses as he rides to his family home. Not too long after arriving at Edo Castle, Sano had been given an audience with the shogun, his second-in-command, Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, and the Council of Elders. There, Sano had related how he had come upon Masahito's plot, showing off the scroll and Lady Niu's final letter. Outraged by the audacity of it all, one of the Elders wonders if Ogyu really had covered it up.
At one of Yanagisawa's orders, an attended goes off to retrieve the magistrate. The magistrate's attempts to convince the shogun of his innocence fall on deaf ears. Regardless of Ogyu's ignorance of the plot against his life, the shogun cannot forgive him for his negligence. After the pronouncement of his exile, the magistrate is dragged out of the room.
The topic then changes to what they should tell the public. Yanagisawa suggests the following: the chaos in Yoshiwara was due to a band of outlaws fighting against a rival group. Masahito and twenty of his friends, as well as numerous civilians, got caught in the fray. The outlaws that survived were quickly gathered up by the police then summarily executed.
Though alarmed at the lie, Sano can nevertheless understand the reasoning behind it: if similarly disgruntled daimyos were to found out about the giant breach in security, they might try to pick up where Masahito had left off, if not something far worse. He is also grateful to see that the remaining members of the Niu clan will not be executed in accordance with the usual law of a traitor's family and close assistants sharing in their punishment; Midori will be able to continue living.
Yanagisawa and the Elders discuss the particulars of the chamberlain's plan, Tsunayoshi offers to grant Sano a favor. Sano mules over how to best take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In the end, he asks the shogun to free Wisteria and give her enough money to live as a regular citizens. Thinking the favor a trivial one, the shogun asks for another. This time, he asks for a monument to be erected in Tsunehiko's memory and for Midori to be returned to Edo. Impressed by Sano's selflessness, Tsunayoshi states that he will grant each of Sano's requests in addition to a reward of his own choosing.
Back in the present, Sano arrives to see his father standing in the doorway. Amazed to see him well enough to walk out of bed, Sano hurries to his father. He notifies both him and his mother about his promotion: he is now the shogun's personal investigator. From here on out, he will live and work in Edo Castle. Once his parent's have been sworn to secrecy, he tells them about what led to his raise in status.
He still has trouble accepting this new reality. As he dines with his parents, Sano only wants to be alone so he can process everything that has happened. He gets what he wants in a way he did not expect; after bidding a happy New Year to some of his neighbors, he subconsciously travels to Edo Jail once again. Joining Ito in his yearly tradition of viewing the city, Sano airs out his misgivings regarding the investigation. In his relentless pursuit for the truth, three innocents were killed. Part of him wishes he had done what Ogyu had originally wanted him to: treat the shinjū like just any other.
Though Ito fully understands where Sano is coming from, he gets Sano to see that his new position will offer up more opportunities to right wrongs. It is true that people may get caught in the crossfire, but he will help the innocents in the process. He does not envy Sano's dilemma, knowing it will be a challenge. Sano takes his words to heart and, despite everything, he feels optimistic about the feature.
- Yoriki Sano Ichirō
- Chamberlain Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu
- Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi
- Dr. Ito Genboku
- Niu Midori
- Toda Ikkyu
- Yoriki Yamaga
- Yoriki Hayashi
- Aoki Koemon
- Sano Etsuko
- Sano Shutarō
- Magistrate Ogyu Banzan
- Niu Yukiko
- Lady Wisteria
- Lady Niu
- Okubata/Cherry Eater
- Healing Hands
- Katsuragawa Shundai
- Hamada Tsunehiko
- Hachiya Akira
- Lord Niu Masamune
- Niu Keiko
- Niu Masahito
- Ryoken Gorobei
- Blacksmith Goro
- Maeda Yoshiaki
- Red Kimono
- Ikeda Akiko (mentioned)
|Name||Cause of Death||When|
|Niu Yukiko||Murdered by Eii on Lady Niu's orders||Prologue|
|Noriyoshi||Murdered by Eii on Lady Niu's orders||Prologue|
|Hamada Tsunehiko||Murdered by Eii on Lady Niu's orders||Chapter 14|
|Raiden||Executed by Yamaga and Hayashi||Chapter 18|
|O-hisa||Murdered by Eii||Chapter 23|
|Lady Niu||Jigai with Eii as an assitant||Chapter 27|
|Eii||Suicide after assisting Lady Niu||Chapter 28|
|Niu Masahito||Killed by Sano||Chapter 29|
|The Conspiracy of Twenty-One||Killed during battle||Chapter 29|
- Main article: Glossary of Japanese Terms and Phrases
- Shinjū is thirty chapters long plus a prologue.
- The blurb on the back of the HarperCollins print seems to confuse the term yoriki with the term sosakan. "...newly appointed yoriki Sano Ichirō. ... Despite the official verdict and warnings from his superiors, the shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People suspects..." This implies that Sano is the Shogun's sosakan. This does not become true until the last chapter of the book.
- In some countries, the title for this book was changed:
- In France, the title is Le sabre et la dague ("The Sword and the Dagger").
- In Germany, the title is Der Kirschblütenmord ("The Cherry Blossom Murder").
- In Spain, the title is SHINJU: El amor prohibido ("SHINJU: Forbidden Love")
- In Bulgaria, the novel is sometimes published under the name Японски загадки: Шинджу (Yaponski zagadki: Shindzhu, "Japanese Riddles: Shinju").