Concubine’s Tattoo

Rowland, Laura Joh. The Concubine’s Tattoo. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

In addition to being a great 17th century Japanese murder mystery The Concubine’s Tattoo is a commentary on honor and relationships. Sano Ichirois the shogun’s investigator who has recently celebrated an arranged marriage. In both his professional and personal life Sano must balance a code of conduct that is morally, politically and, of course, honorably sound. Sano’s latest case (on the night of his wedding no less) is the murder of the shogun’s favorite concubine. Entwined in this murder are complications concerning an heir, long standing cultural differences and rivalries. Rowland displays Sano’s progress on the case through the eyes of Sano’s new wife Reiko, his enemy Chamberlain Yanagisawa, his partner Hirata, and Sano himself as well as many other fascinating characters. One of the best enjoyments of Rowland’s book is her vivid, descriptive use of imagery. The details are so sensuous and alluring. They exquisitely cater to all five senses. Here are two quotes I particularly liked, “Her voice was a husky murmur that insinuated its way into Hirata’s mind like a dark, intoxicating smoke” (p 86), and “The cold air had a lung-saturating dampness” (p 166). 

One other detail I thought I should point out – Rowland is not afraid to describe vivid sex scenes of varying natures. Man on man, woman on woman, husband and wife, illicit seductions, and even rape. The scenes while reminiscent of lusty bodice-rippers are not overly flowery or “heaving.”

BookLust Twist: In More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Crime is a Globetrotter: China” (p 60).



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