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Showing posts by: Laura Joh Rowland click to see Laura Joh Rowland's profile
Dec 5 2014 10:45am

The Iris Fan: New Excerpt

Laura Joh Rowland

The Iris Fan by Laura Joh Rowland is the 18th mystery and finale of this acclaimed series set in feudal Japan, featuring the recently demoted Sano Ichirō whose last case will involve a brutal attack on the shogunate itself  (available December 9, 2014).

Japan, 1709. The shogun is old and ailing. Amid the ever-treacherous intrigue in the court, Sano Ichirō has been demoted from chamberlain to a lowly patrol guard. His relationship with his wife Reiko is in tatters, and a bizarre new alliance between his two enemies Yanagisawa and Lord Ienobu has left him puzzled and wary. Sano’s onetime friend Hirata is a reluctant conspirator in a plot against the ruling regime. Yet, Sano's dedication to the Way of the Warrior—the samurai code of honor—is undiminished.

Then a harrowing, almost inconceivable crime takes place. In his own palace, the shogun is stabbed with a fan made of painted silk with sharp-pointed iron ribs. Sano is restored to the rank of chief investigator to find the culprit. This is the most significant, and most dangerous, investigation of his career. If the shogun's heir is displeased, he will have Sano and his family put to death without waiting for the shogun's permission, then worry about the consequences later. And Sano has enemies of his own, as well as unexpected allies. As the previously unimaginable death of the shogun seems ever more possible, Sano finds himself at the center of warring forces that threaten not only his own family but Japan itself.


SLOW, HISSING BREATHS expanded and contracted the air in a chamber as dark as the bottom of a crypt. Wind shook the shutters. Sleet pattered onto the tile roof. In the corridor outside the chamber, the floor creaked under stealthy footsteps. The shimmering yellow glow of an oil lamp diffused across the room’s lattice-and-paper wall. The footsteps halted outside the room; the door slid open as quietly as a whisper. A hand draped in the sleeve of a black kimono held the lamp across the threshold. The flame illuminated a futon, covered with a gold brocade satin quilt, in which two human shapes slumbered.

[Continue reading Laura Joh Rowland's The Iris Fan...]

Sep 27 2013 9:15am

The Buck-toothed Turtle: A Deadly Voyeur

A traditional Japanese bathhouse: in this case, the person peeping through the wall (upper left) is probably the attendant.Good news:  The science of genetics has come a long way since Gregor Mendel experimented with hybrid pea plants during the nineteenth century. Now we have the results of the ground-breaking Human Genome Project: a complete map of the 20,000-25,000 genes of the human species. Somewhere in all that data is the DNA coding for every physical trait, from eye color to cancer susceptibility. 

I wonder what other kinds of traits are coded in our genes. Personality characteristics such as kindness, artistic talent, and optimism? How about behaviors? I’ve heard that certain genes are associated with violence. Maybe flirting, overeating, and nitpicking are part of our genetic makeup, too. I don’t think that’s so far-fetched an idea.  Many quirks, including our not-so-admirable ones, cut across racial, ethnic, cultural, geographical, and temporal lines.  Maybe that’s evidence that they’re hard-wired into us.

Consider voyeurism. 

[Do you dare peek further?]

Sep 6 2013 9:00am

The Afterlife of a Poisonous Wife: Japan’s Famous O-Den Takahashi

An image of O-Den Takahashi from the 1870sSome criminals live on as legends for many years after their demise. Three of my favorite examples are Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow, and Jack the Ripper. I saw the movie Bonnie and Clyde in 1967. Played by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, the outlaw lovers were all the rage.  They made 1930’s depression-era fashion seem cool. At that time Bonnie and Clyde had been dead for 33 years, ambushed and gunned down by law enforcement officers in Louisiana in 1934.

Jack the Ripper has even more staying power. In 1888 he murdered and mutilated some prostitutes in foggy, gas-lit London.  Although (or probably because) he was never caught or identified, he’s still a household name today, 125 years later. He’s the iconic serial killer, the subject of countless books, movies, and TV shows.  One of my favorites is the 1967 Star Trek episode in which Jack the Ripper is an evil, alien entity who travels through time and space on an eternal murder spree.

The Far East has its own cast of legendary criminals with long afterlives. While researching Japanese history for my samurai detective series, I ran across the story of O-Den Takahashi (1847-1879). Some of Japan’s most notorious murderers were female. Because so many used poison as their M.O., Japanese murderesses were referred to by the term dokufu—“poisonous wife,” whether or not their crimes were in fact poisonings. O-Den Takahashi is the iconic poisonous wife.

[So...did she poison her husband?...]

Dec 18 2012 12:00pm

Crime and Dismemberment

In 1993, Lorena Bobbitt shocked the world when she cut off her husband John’s penis and threw it out of her car window as she drove away from the scene. But she wasn’t the first woman to do this grisly deed.

Tokyo, 1936. Sada Abe, age 31, a former geisha/prostitute, went to work as a waitress in a restaurant operated by Kichizo Ishida, age 42, a married man and incorrigible philanderer. Kichizo put the moves on Sada while she served dishes of eel, the restaurant’s specialty. She developed an obsessive romantic passion and insatiable sexual desire for him. Sada and Kichizo pledged eternal love and enjoyed marathon sex orgies at the local love hotel. The couple began experimenting with erotic strangulation. Sada would wrap her obi around Kichizo’s neck and tighten it, giving him an impressive erection and enhancing their sexual pleasure. But one day things went too far.

[Yes, we figured they did...]

Sep 6 2011 2:00pm

The Ronin’s Mistress: New Excerpt

Laura Joh Rowland

The Ronin’s Mistress by Laura Joh Rowland

Japan, 1703.

On a snowy night, 47 warriors murder the man at the center of the scandal that turned them from samurai into masterless ronin two years before. Clearly this was an act of revenge—but why did they wait so long? And is there any reason they should not immediately be ordered to commit ritual suicide?

Sano Ichiro, demoted from Chamberlain to his old post as Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People, has mere days to solve the greatest mystery of samurai legend—while his own fortunes hang in the balance.


Edo, Month 12, Geroku Year 15
(Tokyo, February 1703)


Snow sifted from the night sky over Edo. The wind howled, whipping the snow into torn veils, piling drifts against the shut­tered buildings. Flakes gleamed in white halos around lamps at the gates at every intersection. Time was suspended, the city frozen in a dream of winter.

[Please log in or register to read the excerpt]

May 30 2011 3:00pm

Crime and Punishment a la Medieval Japan

Samurai being arrestedHistorical mystery novels serve as a reminder that the good old days weren’t always that good. Especially for the folks accused or convicted of crimes. My Sano Ichiro samurai mystery series is set in 17th - 18th century Japan, occurring later in Japan’s 700-year “medieval” era. As I research and write my books, I constantly marvel at how harsh the justice system was, and how different from our legal system in the United States.

The United States is a democracy, while medieval Japan was a police state ruled by the shogun. That accounts for many of the differences in law and order, crime and punishment. In medieval Japan, there was not even a pretense of equal justice for all. Civil rights didn’t exist. That makes it easy for me as an author. If Sano wants to torture a suspect he’s interrogating (FYI, he never actually does), the suspect can’t file a complaint and Sano won’t get in trouble. He also never needs a search warrant. There was no such thing as lawyers, jury trials, or “innocent until proven guilty.” A magistrate was judge and jury. If you were arrested for a crime, you would almost certainly be convicted. Incarceration in jail was usually brief, a mere waiting period before a trial soon followed by punishment.

[Dead man walking . . .]