Laura Joh Rowland - The Pillow Book of Lady WisteriaI'll start by saying that I love the environment of the late 1600s in Japan, and I love mysteries. So I definitely recommend getting the entire Rowland series and reading them in order start to finish. That being said, there are definitely things that I wish were done differently in these books, so by the time I hit book 7 - The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria - some of the problems had just not been fixed and had become very redundant.
Sano Ichiro, the Shogun's detective, is constantly having to battle with the inane Shogun who cannot make a decision. He is constantly fearing that maybe TODAY he will be slain by the Shogun for some slight. While certainly life and death were never a sure thing back in those days, to go through 7 books worth of top notch paranoia gets to wear on you a bit. You really don't think that he WILL be killed of course, any more than you think James Bond will finally catch that bullet. But in Bond movies the tension is managed and believable, where here you would think at least Sano would have come to accept with quiet stoicism the situation he's in.
I was very happy that this book was only 3 months after the last one (story time wise) so that we could see more development of the relationship between Sano and his wife, Reiko, who caused him so much trouble (and yet helped as well) in the last situation. I love to see character development and growth in stories and series. Yes, now Reiko was not as self assured, which in my book is a good thing. She's gotten a bit more mature. Or has she? She seems to still throw tantrums, leaping from one wild assumption to another with great rapidity. Sano lies to her and their reconciliation is very forced.
The issue at hand is a relative of the Shogun's who has been slain, and a concubine - Lady Wisteria - now missing. She's an ex lover of Sano's. Sano of course doesn't tell his wife this, the Shogun waffles on what must be done, and Yanagisawa's buddy Hashina causes trouble at every turn. Throw into the mix that Midori wants to marry Hirata, and that Yanagisawa's wife wants to be friends. Or does she?
Even after all of this time I find it hard to really empathize with some of the characters. Hashina is the stereotypical "clueless young bachelor". Midori is the stereotypical "madly in love and willing to try all sorts of stupid tricks to get her man" chick with less than half a brain. I am happy that the "every character has a peverse sexual hobby" style has been toned down. I don't mind sex. I just find it a bit excessive when it's every single character. Of course this episode was set in a whorehouse town, so you have to expect some.
The twists and turns were fun, although far too similar to a certain previous book. Also, I found the Lady Yanagisawa situation to be VERY unbelievable. There was no justification at all given why Yanagisawa - a man very much attuned to beauty and intelligence - would purposefully choose a very ugly woman with few brains, use her to get a kid, but then abandon her - knowing how much harm she could cause to him with the information she has access to. To be honest, with the way she was introduced I wanted a much more complex story there, but it petered out with both not much "meaning" at all - and I found the ending sequence involving the child to be extremely disturbing. I'm sure of course that is why it was put in - instead of coming up with more and more bizarre sex situations, the author had to find something new to "disturb" us. Surely this wasn't really necessary, though.
In general I love the ambiance and mood, it's why I keep coming back. I wish the characters were more rounded, more "settled" in their world. I wish the story was written from a 1600s point of view, instead of modern day morality being pressed onto 1600s situations. I wish the in story connections made more "sense" in the story, instead of clues dropping from the sky and revelations doing likewise. Maybe those will come from future books, as the characters mature.
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