Synopses & Reviews
The latest in the "terrifically imaginative" (The Wall Street Journal) Akitada mystery series brings eleventh-century Japan to life
I. J. Parker's phenomenal Akitada mystery series has been gaining fans with each new novel. The latest, The Convict's Sword, is the most fully realized installment to date, weaving history, drama, mystery, romance, and adventure into a story of passion and redemption. Lord Sugawara Akitada, the senior secretary in the Ministry of Justice, must find the mysterious killer of a man condemned to live in exile for a crime he did not commit. Meanwhile, Akitada's retainer, Tora, investigates the sudden death of a blind street singer, whose past life is a bigger mystery than anyone thought. Told in Parker's clever, vivid prose, The Convict's Sword is a must-read for those who love well-written mysteries in an exotic setting.
"In Parker's compelling fifth mystery set in feudal Japan (after 2007's Island of Exiles), Sugawara Akitada, now a senior secretary in the ministry of justice, suffers guilt over his failure to fulfill his promise to Haseo, a recently deceased convict who saved his life in an earlier book, to exonerate him. As Akitada makes some small progress toward finding the truth about the five-year-old murders Haseo was blamed for, he must also clear his own retainer, Tora, of the murder of a blind street singer. His inquiries on both fronts come at a time of increasing tension with his wife, Tamako, and as an outbreak of smallpox disrupts the captial city, Heian-Kyo. A capricious and unreliable boss, Soga, adds to his woes. Besides smoothly mixing action with deduction, Parker gives her protagonist an emotional depth that raies her to the front rank of contemporary historical writers, including Laura Joh Rowland, the author of a similar series set in 17th- century Japan (The Fire Kimono, etc.).
An 11th-century Japanese sleuth solves two killings that strike uncomfortably close to home.
The brutal murder of Tomoe, a blind street singer, offers a stark contrast to the beautiful morning that greets Lord Sugawara Akitada and his beloved wife Tamako. Akitada, who serves as Senior Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, has recently been testy and restless at work. The solution, he realizes, is to fulfill a past promise to ferret out the killer of his friend Haseo, even though this could imperil his position in the royal court. The only clue in the murder of Haseo, a former convict unjustly condemned, is the weapon: a sword. Tomoe's killing presents a more pressing mystery. The prime suspect is Tora, one of Akitada's three lieutenants, reportedly apprehended near the body with knife in hand. Amazingly, Tora's elder cohort Seimei theorizes that the hotheaded young man might indeed be guilty. Akitada uneasily presses for Tora's release so that he can help find the killer. The case only grows more complex when it's discovered that Tomoe may have been a prostitute. A rift in Akitada's marriage and a health scare for Seimei provide further complications. At length, despite a scarcity of clues, the investigation comes full circle, leading to the solution of Haseo's murder as well.
The elegance and deliberate pace of Akitada's sixth case (Island of Exiles, etc.) are appropriate to the hero's character and satisfying on their own. Abundant historical detail adds interest to the pro forma mystery.
The Daily Beat
Skipping ahead to 11th-century Japan, there's the brutality-beneath-the- silk of The Convict's Sword, I.J. Parker's sixth installment in her Sugawara Akida mystery series. The scenario is lush and the plot fast-paced; Parker has a truly conflicted hero in her lead detective, who must unravel the enigma behind a promise he made years ago to a dying friend. This historical reads like a modern thriller, due in great part to Parker's keep wit and ability to immerse us in the dazzlingly unfamiliar.
About the Author
I. J. Parker, winner of the Shamus Award for "Akitada’s First Case," a short story published in 1999, lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She writes regularly for Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.