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"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, George Alec Effinger; her agent, Peter Grey Ahearn; her editor, David Rosenthal; her husband, Marty Rowland; 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.
- For chapter summaries, see Shinjū/Plot.
After investigating a fire in Nihonbashi, yoriki Sano Ichriō receives a summons from Magistrate Ogyu. Ogyu explains that a peasant man 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 the dead woman is a daughter from a well-known samurai family, Ogyu orders Sano to handle the matter swiftly and quietly. Sano's instincts tell him that there is more to this case than what Ogyu is telling him. Despite the potential risks of demotion and disgrace, Sano decides to investigate the case himself.
He begins by going to Edo Jail to inspect the bodies. He meets Dr. Ito Genboku and his eta assistant, Mura. Yukiko's corpse was already given over to her family for funeral preparations, but Noriyoshi's body is still at the morgue. An autopsy reveals bruises and no water in his lungs, indicating that was beaten to death before being placed in the river. Sano suspects that this is also the case with Yukiko.
The following day, Sano visits the Niu estate, ostensibly to pay his respects to the grieving family. He questions Lady Niu, her son, Masahito, and her bodyguard, Eii, but Sano does not learn anything useful and even manages to tip off Lady Niu about his investigation. Before leaving the estate, one of Yukiko's sisters, Midori, 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 ask Midori more questions, 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 certain about her own theory. She remembers seeing Yukiko acting much differently than her usual cheerful self before her death. In order to see what was going through her sister's head, Midori goes into Yukiko's bedchamber and finds some of her dairies, hoping that they will give her a clue as to what might have happened to her. She is able to find something: apparently, Yukiko learned about some horrible secret that she could not repeat but still felt compelled to tell someone about. Before Midori can figure out what her sister was referring to, Lady Niu catches Midori and forcibly removes her 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 would reveal his secret investigation. During the interrogation, Sano learns 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 this money through honest means, as being a shunga artist is not a highly paid profession. Okubata takes the money 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 interupts the two man and asks Healing Hands about Noriyoshi. The masseur tells Sano about a friend of Noriyoshi's that Okubata did not want to mention: a women by the name of Wisteria who works at a pleasure house called the Palace of the Heavenly Garden. Okubata warns Healing Hands not to say anything more which 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. Sano Shutarō, his father, is sick and his illness has worsened since Sano last saw him. During dinner, his father reminds Sano to continue following the edicts of Bushido and to avoid becoming a rōnin. While initially angry at the reminder, Sano realizes that his father does not have much longer to live. 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, all the while unable to stop thinking about the murders. Despite his best efforts, he cannot keep his mind from wondering if Wisteria is the key to figuring out what happened to Noriyoshi and Yukiko. His inability to sleep that night seals the deal.
Returning to Yoshiwara, Sano easily finds the brothel Wisteria works at. Inside her room, Sano asks Wisteria questions regarding Noriyoshi's background. From this interview, Sano learns that Noriyoshi was an amiable individual who had helped Wisteria rise from lowly maid to sought after courtesan. He had not expected any sexual favors from Wisteria, mostly because he preferred men. Noriyoshi was not without fault though: he had a habit of blackmailing people and had made enemies, two of whom Wisteria believes would have hated him enough to kill him: a kabuki actor named Kikunojo and a sumo wrestler named Raiden.
Thanking Wisteria, Sano goes to leave but Wisteria wants him to stay. Through their exchange, Wisteria had been employing subtle seduction techniques and Sano cannot find it within himself to resist her any longer. After their coupling, Sano wakes up to find Wisteria grieving over her lost friend. Sano's attempts to comfort her backfire, as she tells him to leave. Feeling guilty about taking advantage of her, Sano concludes that the only way he can make amends to Wisteria is to see the investigation through.
In Ogyu's office the next day, Sano tries his best to get Ogyu to reconsider his position regarding the shinjū. Despite the evidence he has gathered, Sano fails in his endeavor. In fact, Ogyu subtly threatens to dismiss Sano, thereby throwing Sano into disgrace and potentially accelerating Shutarō's illness.
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 thus far. He concludes that he will need to find ironclad proof that Noriyoshi and Yukiko were indeed murdered. This would mean going against Ogyu's orders once again, but Sano cannot ignore the urge he feels towards pursuing the truth. As he prepares to go interrogate Kikunojo, Sano hopes that he will be able to get the proof he needs to convince Ogyu before he finds out about his disobedience.
More to be added...
Character Appearances Edit
- Major characters:
- Minor Characters:
Character Deaths Edit
|Name||Cause of Death||When|
|Lady Niu||Suicide via decapitation by Eii||?|
|Eii||Suicide after assisting Lady Niu||?|
|Niu Masahito||Killed by Sano||?|
- Satsuma Province
- Osumi Province
- Enoshima (mentioned)
Cover Gallery Edit
- 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 France, Shinjū is published under the title Le sabre et la dague (roughly, "The Sword and the Dagger").