The Assassin's Touch: A Thriller Hardcover – Jul 14 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
At the start of Rowland's assured 10th historical set in 17th-century Japan (after 2004's The Perfumed Sleeve), Sano Ichiro, now the shogun's chamberlain and second-in-command, returns to his previous role of criminal investigator after the country's top spy, Ejima Senzaemon, drops dead on his mount during a horse race. Sano quickly finds that Senzaemon was just the latest senior official to die without warning. With the assistance of Hirata, his longtime assistant, the chamberlain uses his highly irregular sources to get on the trail of a martial-arts master using the legendary dim-mak, or touch of death. As always, the potential political ramifications of the crimes, which threaten the regime's precarious hold on power, add urgency to the inquiries, and failure risks not only Sano's status but his family's lives as well. While the significance of the subplot featuring Sano's wife, Reiko, may strike some as coincidental, the compelling story line, evocative detail and suspense should engage newcomers and satisfy longtime fans alike. At a point when many series show signs of wear, Rowland's characters remain fresh.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Lately, this popular series, set during Japan's feudal period, has shown signs of lethargy. But now it feels reenergized. Sano Ichiro, the former ronin (a samurai without a master), has been promoted from investigator to chamberlain, the shogun's second-in-command and overseer of Japan's military government. The story, which involves the mysterious death of the chief of the shogun's intelligence service, is much more political than previous Sano adventures. Sano himself, perhaps because of his new responsibilities (or is it because his wife may be implicated in the man's death?), seems different, too: less impetuous, more deferential to authority. Even Rowland's writing, which was never a problem, even when the stories began to decline, feels a little livelier. A welcome breath of fresh air and a reminder that staleness is a fixable problem, at least in series fiction. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Over the past few weeks, quite a few of Matsudaira's cronies, whom he had put in positions of power have started dying -- seemingly of natural causes. But Matsudaira smells something fishy about their deaths. Especially since Yanagiswa's fallen allies are still rallying to his cause and have been causing a lot of chaos, death and unrest. When Sano's investigations lead him to discover that a very dangerous foe is darting in and out of Edo, slipping in and out of shadows in order to commit murder in a most unique and deadly way, Matsudaira insists that Sano quickly solve the mystery of these deaths and that he implicates one of Yanagiswa's former allies as being responsible for everything. And while Sano is eager to try his hand at solving these deaths, he is adamant about not fitting up a convenient scapegoat just to score points with Masudaira, much to Matsudaira's anger. With his position in court and his job in jeopardy, the last thing Sano needs to discover that the killer has now earmarked him for death! Now, Sano must move very quickly in order to stop a ruthless killer and so save his job, his position and his life...
A fast paced and fairly suspenseful read from start to end, "The Assassin's Touch" made for engrossing reading and lived up to my expectations that it would be a good book. As usual the storyline was a clever one -- a mysterious and invisible killer who seems to be able to strike quickly at his powerful enemies; and that together with the historical details, atmosphere and vivid imagery, all contributed brilliantly to ensure that the novel was a very enjoyable and riveting read. I thought that the author's idea to make Sano's position as precarious as ever (now he has to deal with Lord Matsudaira instead of Lord Yangiswa, and he still finds himself squaring off against old enemies, anxious for his fall) even though he was now Lord Chamberlain of Japan was a good one, and added to the sense of immediacy and tension in the book. If I had any disappointments it was that the whole issue of Reiko's (Sano's wife) investigations. In the past, this has always been a source of contention between the two: Reiko wants to use her intelligence and skill to help Sano solve his cases, while Sano would rather his wife behave more like a traditional wife and leave such matters to himself and his men. In the past, my sympathies have always been with the clever and determined Reiko. This time around however, I must say that my sympathies were with Sano. Especially since Reiko, in spite of Sano's warning, continued to behave in a somewhat reckless manner (not her usual mode of behaviour though), and so ended up giving one of Sano's enemies ammunition against him. Really, this issue is becoming a little tiring, and I wish that the author would resolve it so that Reiko can carry on helping Sano without jeopardising his position.
All in all though, this was a truly fast paced, gripping and suspenseful mystery novel. The series in one of the best historical mystery series to be published, and this particular outing fitted in superbly with previous installments. A trifle violent perhaps, but still a good mystery and read.
Chamberlain Sano's wife, Lady Reiko, is a devoted mother to her young son, but she has an inquiring mind and a restless nature. She is not content to stay quietly at home, tending to domestic duties. In the past, Reiko served as an unofficial private investigator for her husband. However, now that Sano is an administrator, Reiko's services are no longer needed, and she is at loose ends. Suddenly, a new opportunity for sleuthing presents itself when Reiko's father, Magistrate Ueda, urges his daughter to help determine the guilt or innocence of a woman named Yuago, who is accused of murdering her parents and sister. Reiko rashly agrees to help the magistrate, not realizing that her decision will bring her much trouble and untold grief.
"The Assassin's Touch" is colorful, action-packed, and fast-paced. Sano and Reiko are appealing protagonists and Rowland populates her mystery with a large and fascinating cast of characters. These include Lord Matsudaira, the shogun's cousin who controls the country while the slow-witted shogun wields power in name only. Hirata, the man who inherited Sano's old position, is in constant agony from an old sword wound that crippled him for life. Yet, when Sano asks his old friend to help him, the loyal retainer fights his excruciating pain and resolves to do his duty. Yuago, whom Reiko is investigating, is an angry and violent woman hiding an explosive secret, and the assassin of the title is an elusive villain who is a practitioner of the mystical martial arts. Sano Ichiro faces a formidable and highly dangerous foe who can kill with a touch.
There are a few weaknesses in "The Assassin's Touch," such as the far-fetched coincidences that cause Reiko's and Sano's cases to unexpectedly merge. In addition, the dialogue is a bit stilted and, at times, too contemporary for the time period. Finally, the somewhat melodramatic ending requires a large suspension of disbelief. Still, Laura Joh Rowland is a gifted storyteller with a talent for writing atmospheric historical fiction. The author's wealth of descriptive detail brings seventeenth century Japan to brilliant life. She shows the brutal and dark side of Edo at that time, with its courtesans, sadists, opportunists, and murderers, but she also features admirable characters who are courageous and unselfish. Although "The Assassin's Touch" is not a perfect mystery, it is a lively, entertaining, and engrossing thriller that will please the many fans of this popular series.
In the beginning, Sano was a noble and interesting character, surrounded by equally fascinating secondary characters like Hirata and, later, Reiko. As the series progressed, the plot lines involving political intrique have become repeatative and boring for me.
The characters have become darker and less sympathetic, and the entire mileue is more sordid and ugly. It's just TOO much after a while. Gone are any of the humanizing scenes of private life and the absence of any humor makes the story a task rather than a joy. In addition, the injection of perverted sex in each of the last few books -- and graphic sexual scenes -- has made the books less to my liking.
Again, those who like these darker, broody stories will no doubt have a much better opinion of this latest entry in the series, but those who prefer their fiction a bit lighter may share my dismay at the change in the Sano books.