STORYLINE: The novel opens in Tokyo, with an investigation of a plot to overthrow the current regime. Sano Ichiro, a high-ranking samurai governs the investigation. An opponent, Lord Mori, is murdered and Sano’s wife found naked at the scene. Everything points to her being the killer. Sano races against time and diabolical enemies to save himself and his wife from being found guilty of treason and murder.
Sano Ichro – a powerful samurai detective who has more enemies than one person should have in a lifetime.
Reiko – Sano wife, an extra-ordinarily resourceful woman who questions whether she is delusional and if she has done the unthinkable.
I LIKED: the flow of the story. I couldn’t put the book down for any length of time and moved though it at a gallop, wanting to find out what would happen next. I knew Sano would triumph, but had to know how. I found out in a little less than four hours. As with novels of this nature, there were traps around every corner and political intrigue at every turn, which helped keep the tension high and the plot moving forward.
I COULD HAVE LIVED WITHOUT: the child molestation aspect of the story. In the time that the novel is set (17th century) child molestation was permissible. While the images presented were not graphic and that aspect was relevant to the plot, I still had issues. My only other niggle was with the language. Words like detective, valet, and some of the dialogue felt like modern day tidbits thrown in with an ancient setting. The shogun was drawn as capricious and feeble minded. I’m not saying that we haven’t seen rulers of this ilk in the world, but he came across as silly and dangerous, which I suppose is what the writer was after.
OVERALL COMMENTS: I started the book on a tentative note, fearing that I wouldn’t be able to keep the characters straight in my mind. However, I forgot how much I enjoy stories that deal with old world Japanese culture. Haven’t read one in a while, but the Red Chysanthemum thrust me straight into scenes of intrigue and treachery, which are bywords for novels set in Japan. Laura Joh Rowland paints vivid pictures in this novel, so much so that they were sometimes too strong. However, on the basis of plot, pacing and storytelling, my rating of Red Chyrsanthemum is a five.