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Twenty months spent as the shogun's sosakan-sama--most honorable investigator of events, situations, and people--has left Sano Ichiro weary. He looks forward to the comforts that his arranged marriage promises: a private life with a sweet, submissive wife and a month's holiday to celebrate their union. However, the death of the shogun's favorite concubine interrupts the co Twenty months spent as the shogun's sosakan-sama--most honorable investigator of events, situations, and people--has left Sano Ichiro weary. He looks forward to the comforts that his arranged marriage promises: a private life with a sweet, submissive wife and a month's holiday to celebrate their union. However, the death of the shogun's favorite concubine interrupts the couple's wedding ceremony and shatters any hopes the samurai detective had about enjoying a little peace with his new wife. After Sano traces the cause of Lady Harume's death to a self-inflicted tattoo, he must travel into the cloistered, forbidden world of the shogun's women to untangle the complicated web of Harume's lovers, rivals, and troubled past, and identify her killer. To make matters worse, Reiko, his beautiful young bride, reveals herself to be not a traditional, obedient wife, but instead, a headstrong, intelligent, aspiring detective bent on helping Sano with his new case. Sano is horrified at her unladylike behavior, and the resulting sparks make their budding love as exciting as they mystery surrounding Lady Harume's death. Amid the heightened tensions and political machinations of feudal Japan, Sano faces a daunting complex investigation. As subtle as the finest lacquered screen, as powerful as the slash of a sword, Laura Joh Rowland's The Concubine's Tattoo vividly brings to life a story of murder, jealousy, sexual intrigue, and political storms that keeps is in its spell until the final, shattering scene.


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Twenty months spent as the shogun's sosakan-sama--most honorable investigator of events, situations, and people--has left Sano Ichiro weary. He looks forward to the comforts that his arranged marriage promises: a private life with a sweet, submissive wife and a month's holiday to celebrate their union. However, the death of the shogun's favorite concubine interrupts the co Twenty months spent as the shogun's sosakan-sama--most honorable investigator of events, situations, and people--has left Sano Ichiro weary. He looks forward to the comforts that his arranged marriage promises: a private life with a sweet, submissive wife and a month's holiday to celebrate their union. However, the death of the shogun's favorite concubine interrupts the couple's wedding ceremony and shatters any hopes the samurai detective had about enjoying a little peace with his new wife. After Sano traces the cause of Lady Harume's death to a self-inflicted tattoo, he must travel into the cloistered, forbidden world of the shogun's women to untangle the complicated web of Harume's lovers, rivals, and troubled past, and identify her killer. To make matters worse, Reiko, his beautiful young bride, reveals herself to be not a traditional, obedient wife, but instead, a headstrong, intelligent, aspiring detective bent on helping Sano with his new case. Sano is horrified at her unladylike behavior, and the resulting sparks make their budding love as exciting as they mystery surrounding Lady Harume's death. Amid the heightened tensions and political machinations of feudal Japan, Sano faces a daunting complex investigation. As subtle as the finest lacquered screen, as powerful as the slash of a sword, Laura Joh Rowland's The Concubine's Tattoo vividly brings to life a story of murder, jealousy, sexual intrigue, and political storms that keeps is in its spell until the final, shattering scene.

30 review for The Concubine's Tattoo

  1. 5 out of 5

    Athena

    I didn't realize this was the 4th in the series but Joh Rowland writes well enough that this is easily read as a stand-alone. It's a basic murder-mystery-with-romance genre set during the Tokugawa shogunate era in Japan. I enjoyed the historical/cultural setting more than most of the plot or characters, though one major villain of the piece, the hero's nemesis (because heroes must have nemeses apparently) does end up the most interesting of the characters. Joh Rowland did an OK job with the myste I didn't realize this was the 4th in the series but Joh Rowland writes well enough that this is easily read as a stand-alone. It's a basic murder-mystery-with-romance genre set during the Tokugawa shogunate era in Japan. I enjoyed the historical/cultural setting more than most of the plot or characters, though one major villain of the piece, the hero's nemesis (because heroes must have nemeses apparently) does end up the most interesting of the characters. Joh Rowland did an OK job with the mystery and threw in some compelling hints and red herrings but it was still clear in the first third of the book who'd Done The Fiendish Deed. Her writing is very readable but she has difficulty writing characters with much depth. Bad guys are bad, good guys are good, seasoned investigators are far too easily overwhelmed by their sex drives, and apparently two-thirds of Old Japan spent most of their time obsessing over getting laid. Meh. It was good for an "I'm getting sick" read but not compelling enough that I'll pick up any of her other books.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tocotin

    So. Rowland's books about Sano Ichiro the Edo-era detective are my guilty pleasure, because they are so cheesy it's charming. Reading them is like watching a cheap theatrical production: everything just reeks of cardboard and paint, but the actors are so serious and sweaty that it becomes fun to watch them. There was not even one character behaving reasonably: neither Sano the shogun's investigator, nor his subordinates, his rival Chamberlain Yanagisawa, Sano's new wife Reiko (!), shogun's mother So. Rowland's books about Sano Ichiro the Edo-era detective are my guilty pleasure, because they are so cheesy it's charming. Reading them is like watching a cheap theatrical production: everything just reeks of cardboard and paint, but the actors are so serious and sweaty that it becomes fun to watch them. There was not even one character behaving reasonably: neither Sano the shogun's investigator, nor his subordinates, his rival Chamberlain Yanagisawa, Sano's new wife Reiko (!), shogun's mother, her lover, no one. They were all stumbling in the dark. The whole plot was possible because everyone was so stupid: the supposed villain relying on his lover instead of his highly trained spies, the women longing after something to do, as if their daily life wasn't hectic enough, the shogun and his mother allowing hordes of men into the Great Interior of Edo Castle. Well. It was all needed in order for the story to happen. What I liked about the book was the ability of the author to convey the atmosphere of a place with a few sentences. That's a considerable skill. Also, I liked m/m action (Yanagisawa and his actor lover). Other than that, nothing good can be said about the book, I guess. I don't know if anyone thinks that the historical details in it are accurate, and if someone does, then I can't help. One thing is probably worth mentioning: the poverty of Danzaemon the eta leader. No. Danzaemon is a hereditary name all leaders of the group inherited, and they were VERY rich. Oh and Oka Basho is not a proper name. It's just a word for an unlicensed prostitute quarter, and Edo had dozens of these.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    I like the main character, the mystery was interesting. However, political machinations, whether historical or current, leave me cold. The relationship between the detective and his new wife was very unsatisfactory. After two meetings that both ended in slammed doors or screaming, I don't buy it that (in addition to being sexually aroused), the two began to fall in love. Two brief arguments and two days of (arranged) marriage do not a convincing couple make. If the author wanted to pull in the " I like the main character, the mystery was interesting. However, political machinations, whether historical or current, leave me cold. The relationship between the detective and his new wife was very unsatisfactory. After two meetings that both ended in slammed doors or screaming, I don't buy it that (in addition to being sexually aroused), the two began to fall in love. Two brief arguments and two days of (arranged) marriage do not a convincing couple make. If the author wanted to pull in the "they hate each other until they realize that they love each other" plotline, she should have picked up a few of the paperback mass-market romance novels. Those formulaic novels have that plotline down to a science. I didn't see the necessity of all the sex or almost-sex; much of it would not have been missed if the author had just stuck to the character development and untangling the mystery. (Yes, there were places where it was useful to the story and no, I don't complain every time I read sex in a novel.) And while I'm grousing - pick a language and stick with it. If the story is told in English, then don't throw in Japanese expressions and translate them. Use daimyo and let us figure it out, if you must, but for the love of Mike, stop writing "sumimasen - excuse me". Yes, we're intelligent enough to figure out after the FIRST time that 'sumimasen' might mean 'excuse me'. Or better yet - just write excuse me instead of "translating" it numerous times throughout the book. The word and its translation (again) don't add anything to the story and it's not consistent throughout the book - the characters say 'yes' an awful lot in the book, why isn't it written "Hai - yes"? The underlying story, adventure and relationship had great potential; unfortunately the occasional satisfying glimmers were dulled by writing that tried to be too clever.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    The book was really good. I personally really like crime stories, and to read one from the ancient Japan... oh it's Christmas! The story was awesome, and I've only figured who was the murederer not long before Sano and Hirata, so I was glad! :) Anyway I've read it wrongly... When I got this book I did not know this was a series and not even the first volume... fortunately I did not have much disadvantage because I did not read the previous volumes. I really liked the auothor's writing style, also I The book was really good. I personally really like crime stories, and to read one from the ancient Japan... oh it's Christmas! The story was awesome, and I've only figured who was the murederer not long before Sano and Hirata, so I was glad! :) Anyway I've read it wrongly... When I got this book I did not know this was a series and not even the first volume... fortunately I did not have much disadvantage because I did not read the previous volumes. I really liked the auothor's writing style, also I think she created very unique characters. (even though Chamberlain Yanagisawa is a bad guy, I really like him and his relationship with the No actor Shichisaburo, but...oh well, no spoilers.) I can't wait to read the following and previous volumes :) I highly recommend this book :)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    Set in 1690 Tokyo. Very good historical mystery. Lots of detail around like especially for women in 1690 Japan. Research is very good on social customs. The mystery was well paced and layed out. You will guess several characters through out. She does a good job of showing different types of characters in attibutes in this book. It is book 4 of the series but start with book 1.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lih Hwan

    I just spent an excruciating 2 days trying to finish this book. Basic review: Sano san got married, but a murder occurred at the same time. The murder involved a concubine of the Shogun, which would inevitably pull all of the weight of the internal politics on to Sano San. Like the previous books, the pacing goes back and forth between characters of importance. We are now introduced to Sano san's new wife and given yet another angle to view Hirata, his retainer. I did enjoy the character developme I just spent an excruciating 2 days trying to finish this book. Basic review: Sano san got married, but a murder occurred at the same time. The murder involved a concubine of the Shogun, which would inevitably pull all of the weight of the internal politics on to Sano San. Like the previous books, the pacing goes back and forth between characters of importance. We are now introduced to Sano san's new wife and given yet another angle to view Hirata, his retainer. I did enjoy the character development given to Sano San, his wife and Hirata. There were many tensions between the characters, and within themselves, that was built up due to social and cultural conventions of that time. What got me, structural wise, was the repetitive nature of the book. I don't need pages and pages worth of each individual's regrets or the same regrets being echoed by other characters. I want to know what they will do or not do about it. But why this is so deserving of a 2 star is the editing work. I am not sure if this occurs in the paperbacks too, but I am absolutely disgusted that the spelling in this book is beyond appalling. A couple of spelling errors is understandable, if they were minor, it's also ok. But spelling errors nearly every other page, making sentences broken because of the spelling errors is beyond comprehension. If it was just a slight misspelling, I can understand it. However, some of the words were completely incomprehensible (what was iiiiè supposed to mean?!?) it completely jarred my reading experience, leading to an anti climatic ending. Thanks, but please edit properly. I only completed the book because the premise was interesting and the previous books were good. The spelling ruined what was a good ending for me.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Heidi Burkhart

    So much beautiful, descriptive writing throughout this violent, sexy, high tension book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    I love reading about Japan's history and I am especially fascinated by the Edo period when the Tokugawa shogunate was established. Incidentally, it officially began on my birthday (as I've read and heard) in 1603 which can't be mere coincidence and readily explains my interest for the era. This detective series is very well written. Laura Joh Rowland intricately weaves the history, the unflinching beliefs of the samurai of Feudal Japan, and the endearing love story between the sosakan-sama (Sano I love reading about Japan's history and I am especially fascinated by the Edo period when the Tokugawa shogunate was established. Incidentally, it officially began on my birthday (as I've read and heard) in 1603 which can't be mere coincidence and readily explains my interest for the era. This detective series is very well written. Laura Joh Rowland intricately weaves the history, the unflinching beliefs of the samurai of Feudal Japan, and the endearing love story between the sosakan-sama (Sano Ichiro) and his young wife Reiko into a most enjoyable read. I was unable to tear myself away from it for long stretches of time and the racing momentum of the unfolding story propelled me forward to its incredible end in two days time, less the hours of sleeping, studying and working. It was fantastic! Thank goodness it is a series and I will not have to bid sayonara to one of my favorite fictional pairs...at least for another eight books.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    I had never heard of the Sano Ichiro series when I picked up this mystery, but it hooked me immediately. I went back and read the first three (Shinjuu, Bundori and The Way of the Traitor), but this one was the best of them, so I am glad I read it first. The period details are excellent, as is the author's ability to write the characters as people of their time, not as people with 21st-century thinking transported to the 1600s. Rowland's descriptions are effective, and her characters are complex. I I had never heard of the Sano Ichiro series when I picked up this mystery, but it hooked me immediately. I went back and read the first three (Shinjuu, Bundori and The Way of the Traitor), but this one was the best of them, so I am glad I read it first. The period details are excellent, as is the author's ability to write the characters as people of their time, not as people with 21st-century thinking transported to the 1600s. Rowland's descriptions are effective, and her characters are complex. If you enjoy historical mysteries, this is a very good book in a very good series.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Roberta

    This is the 4th book in the well-written mystery series featuring Sano, a samuai detective. I especially enjoyed Sano's encounters with his assertive new bride and his growing understanding of the stultifying life of women in the late 1600's in Japan. My rating is based on my personal reaction to the plot which has many incidents of graphic sexual material, which I should have expected in a tale called The Concubine's Tattoo -- it's about "concubinage." But it's also about voyeurism, sexual viol This is the 4th book in the well-written mystery series featuring Sano, a samuai detective. I especially enjoyed Sano's encounters with his assertive new bride and his growing understanding of the stultifying life of women in the late 1600's in Japan. My rating is based on my personal reaction to the plot which has many incidents of graphic sexual material, which I should have expected in a tale called The Concubine's Tattoo -- it's about "concubinage." But it's also about voyeurism, sexual violence, and depravity. I found it hard to finish.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Shelly

    I have liked the first 3 of the Sano Ichiro books more than this one. The mystery itself is intriguing, but there is far too much gratuitous, explicit sex in the book for my taste. This was not so much a part of the first three books, but for some reason it is in this one. It was almost enough to keep me from reading the fifth book in the series, but I decided to give the Sano Ichiro books another chance, because there are not many fiction stories set in feudal Japan, and I do like the character I have liked the first 3 of the Sano Ichiro books more than this one. The mystery itself is intriguing, but there is far too much gratuitous, explicit sex in the book for my taste. This was not so much a part of the first three books, but for some reason it is in this one. It was almost enough to keep me from reading the fifth book in the series, but I decided to give the Sano Ichiro books another chance, because there are not many fiction stories set in feudal Japan, and I do like the characters.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Danielle Morency

    During the era of shoguns, samurai, and rising threat of the Western world's influence, a detective struggles to raise his family, keep it safe from intrigues and plots, keep his honor, and perform his duty to a fickle ruler. I love Ms. Rowland's series. The time period is one that most are familiar with, and yet, with each novel, she reveals details that aren't so well known. I've devoured at least ten of her books, and there is nothing so far that will deter me from continuing to do so.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mirjam

    this one errs a bit on the soft-core porn side, but still compelling and fun.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Grimread

    It's not the greatest book. It's probably the weakest one so far. But I'm just going to point out one issue that stuck with me the most. Somehow I have a feeling feminists and SJW would tear this book apart, burn it in hell-fire and feed the ashes to the fishes. I'm none of those but I still find Reiko and Sano's relationship and their dynamic very unbalanced in solving their marriage problem. And I don't mean man-woman power struggle, but the way they compromise. On one side Reiko wants to be ta It's not the greatest book. It's probably the weakest one so far. But I'm just going to point out one issue that stuck with me the most. Somehow I have a feeling feminists and SJW would tear this book apart, burn it in hell-fire and feed the ashes to the fishes. I'm none of those but I still find Reiko and Sano's relationship and their dynamic very unbalanced in solving their marriage problem. And I don't mean man-woman power struggle, but the way they compromise. On one side Reiko wants to be taken seriously as an independent, capable, intelligent woman that can do more than the society is labelling her for. She tells Sano directly what she expects from him, their married life together and the future. On the other side Sano wants a humble wife to go to after a hard day. So what happens after much slamming of doors? Sano after realising what positions woman have in society and how unjustly they are treated, yields to her every demand (out of love)with a profound confession while Reiko contributes nothing to this compromise of them getting on equal position except offering him a hand that to a reader is supposed to indicate her happiness and love. Immediate sexual attraction and instalove gloss over this unbalance completely. To me it just looks like she managed to manipulate her husband the way she manipulated her father into letting her do anything she wants.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gretchen

    I really enjoyed the first three Sano Ichiro books. This fourth novel? I'm not really sure what this was. The new characters, specifically Reiko, did not work for me. Reiko was a spoiled brat. All we were missing was a good foot stomping. You would like to see a little bit of development from existing characters as you move through a series. There was development. Just not the kind of development one would typically expect. Male characters developed......they developed a lot of erections. At one I really enjoyed the first three Sano Ichiro books. This fourth novel? I'm not really sure what this was. The new characters, specifically Reiko, did not work for me. Reiko was a spoiled brat. All we were missing was a good foot stomping. You would like to see a little bit of development from existing characters as you move through a series. There was development. Just not the kind of development one would typically expect. Male characters developed......they developed a lot of erections. At one point, I wasn't sure if I was reading a mystery/thriller or a samurai version of 50 Shades of Grey. This was the kind of book my grandma covered with a cute quilted book cover and then tried to tell us she skipped the smut. She was just reading for the story. At the end, I was let down by this book as much as Hirata was let down by Lady Ichiteru. Well...he wasn't actually let down and that was part of the problem.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Useresu

    As with previous books I applaud the author’s knowledge of medieval Japan and the language portraying it. You can really imagine it as looking at a painting. Unfortunately after 3 books you start to see that’s what it is - a painting - not changing, not moving and closed within constraints of the frame the author meant it to be. It’s still enjoyable but it looses it appeal every time you look at it. Maybe the solution is not to look too often? I’ll probably visit it again, but it won’t be in the As with previous books I applaud the author’s knowledge of medieval Japan and the language portraying it. You can really imagine it as looking at a painting. Unfortunately after 3 books you start to see that’s what it is - a painting - not changing, not moving and closed within constraints of the frame the author meant it to be. It’s still enjoyable but it looses it appeal every time you look at it. Maybe the solution is not to look too often? I’ll probably visit it again, but it won’t be in the nearest future.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Corinne Morier

    AAAAAAAAAAAAH Sano and Reiko are my OTP. Reread this book for the first time in like, five years and their meet-cute in this book is so unique and adorkable. The pacing in this book is amazing, though the conclusion feels a bit rushed. Particularly how Sano finds the location of the villa just in time to (view spoiler)[save Reiko from Lady Miyagi's clutches. (hide spoiler)] Sano is a stubborn arse and comes to terms with it in such a satisfying way. I love this entire series and will shove it do AAAAAAAAAAAAH Sano and Reiko are my OTP. Reread this book for the first time in like, five years and their meet-cute in this book is so unique and adorkable. The pacing in this book is amazing, though the conclusion feels a bit rushed. Particularly how Sano finds the location of the villa just in time to (view spoiler)[save Reiko from Lady Miyagi's clutches. (hide spoiler)] Sano is a stubborn arse and comes to terms with it in such a satisfying way. I love this entire series and will shove it down the throats of anyone looking for a good historical mystery/thriller.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Sano gets married but before he can enjoy marital bliss he must solve the murder of the shogun's favorite concubine. I like the information about feudal Japan in the (1600s?), the way of life for commoners and royalty, power struggles and just human nature. Also the ongoing tension and intrigue between Sano and the ruler's second in command is intriguing. But this book seemed to have more lurid details, almost veering into a romance novel, which I could do without.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sammi

    I liked it...buuuuut i found a lot of it boring? Or too slow? The first half at least was very slow and really not that interesting in my opinion. The second half became a lot more exciting and interesting as things started to wrap up. In general im figuring out that detective type of stories might not be for me because my biggest problem was that we don’t know who Harume was. Who she was nor how she was as a person therefore i didn’t really care what had happened. 🤷‍♀️🤷‍♀️

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Turner

    I am rereading all of them again because I finally bought all of the series. I really like these books because it is historical fiction set in japan in the 1600s. Definitely shocking and violent if you are not used to that kind of thing, but then that was prevalent in that time period. She does a good job at setting a scene in a long ago world. Each one in this series follows a detective (and later his wife) as he solves mysteries for the Shogun. I read this before and still forgot the outcome.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Shira Bea

    I like this book very much! Sano found love in Reiko, and he found new allies in Lade Keisho-in and Priest Ryuko. Also, Chamberlain Yanagisawa's plotting has been stopped. But seriously though, I am getting tired of Yanagisawa's plotting, scheming, and his jealousy towards Sano.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dan Blackley

    Great novel in the series. It took me a little longer to get into this one. Sano marries and I can see that Rowland is putting her "watson" with her "sherlock". I hope the rest of the series is better.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gail Barrington

    Well done. The good thing about this continuing saga is that the story develops from book to book. Sano continues to gain wisdom and he has finally accepted the fact that he needs help to solve his cases. It makes the dynamic more interesting.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mililani

    A very tangled web of intrigue with a twist at the end. Good mystery.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dona

    Too much graphic content. Too bad because I really like this author.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gilda

    3.5 stars rounded up

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chie

    2.5 stars I picked up this book because of the blurb in the back. It would be fun to read a high ranking woman that has spunk and knows how fight in medieval japan. But. In th end I just found her irritating. And I know the MC is just a product of his time and all, but his chauvisnistic views are also irritating. Tho ok, he did change his views later into the story. let's just say i wouldn't want to read it again.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Star Shining Forever

    The poisoning of a concubine sets in motion an investigation that leads to one surprising discovery after another. The homemade tattoo job that killed her was spurred by devotion, but to whom? Lines are blurred by people acting out of duty and hiding their true motives and feelings, as is often the case in Asian cultures. But think how you’d feel if your spouse was allowed and celebrated for taking concubines and sexual favors? What would naturally follow from such a setup? Festering tempers and The poisoning of a concubine sets in motion an investigation that leads to one surprising discovery after another. The homemade tattoo job that killed her was spurred by devotion, but to whom? Lines are blurred by people acting out of duty and hiding their true motives and feelings, as is often the case in Asian cultures. But think how you’d feel if your spouse was allowed and celebrated for taking concubines and sexual favors? What would naturally follow from such a setup? Festering tempers and violence simmering just under the surface. The red herring of a military captain is thrown in and takes longer than expected to circle back around but it does. The main detective’s inner struggles and love life are given a subplot and also resolved.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marlowe

    Emperor Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s concubine has died while carving a tattoo onto her body. The emperor’s lead investigator, Sano Ichiro, must solve the mystery of her death while navigating the delicate balance of the court, the conflicted allegiances of his right-hand-man, and his new wife’s feminist ideals. The Concubine’s Tattoois genre-fiction; there’s no mistaking it. It makes the unfortunate poor writing choices that most detective mysteries seem to make. If characters are developed at all, it Emperor Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s concubine has died while carving a tattoo onto her body. The emperor’s lead investigator, Sano Ichiro, must solve the mystery of her death while navigating the delicate balance of the court, the conflicted allegiances of his right-hand-man, and his new wife’s feminist ideals. The Concubine’s Tattoois genre-fiction; there’s no mistaking it. It makes the unfortunate poor writing choices that most detective mysteries seem to make. If characters are developed at all, it is only in “character blurbs” that are given on introduction and that are supposed to explain all future actions of that character. For example, a few paragraphs are devoted to Lady Uechi Reiko’s (Sano’s wife) upbringing and how, as an only child, she was raised as a male and that’s why she’s such a feminist. Unfortunately for what could have been a very good story, Rowland has never heard the phrase “show, don’t tell.” This is a recurrent issue in the novel, and not only when characters are first introduced. Whenever a character feels anything, we are told explicitly what it is they feel, regardless of which side of the investigation they are on. In a mystery, this does a great deal to ruin the story because it takes a lot of the guess-work out of the equation. And, of course, since the reader knows what the protagonists can’t know, it forces Rowland to give the detectives “sudden insight” that defies logic. The novel also offended my sensibilities in many ways. Nearly every “bad” character is either gay or a sexual pervert. It wouldn’t bother me so much if only one antagonist were gay or if some of the good characters were too, but the one-sidedness suggests to me that Rowland equates being gay with a deficiency of character (whether it be outright evil like Lord Yanagisawa or plain effeminate impotence like the emperor). And while I certainly agree with some of the narrator’s ideas about the caste system and the role of women, seeing the author break through into the writing to get on her soapbox and lecture about these topics becomes wearisome after a while. For my last negative comment of the day, I found the mystery itself to be lacking. There were red-herrings and femme-fatales and all the other staples of the genre, but the total lack of originality, interesting characters, and a compelling plot made the whole novel drag. The big twist ending might have been all right if the characters didn’t go on at length about how unexpected a twist it was. Rowland doesn’t seem to understand that her readers can identify surprising conclusions without being told to be surprised (and then lectured at about how anti-feminist we all are for not anticipating it). That being said, I loved the setting. Rowland does a great job of exposing the world of her mystery – it’s just a shame that such an interesting world is populated by such cardboard people.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    The Concubine's Tattoo is written so much better than The Way of the Traitor, that I can barely believe that the same person wrote these two stories! In The Concubine's Tattoo Laura Joh Rowland is back to writing beautiful lines that are evocative of Japanese poetry. The plot moves along at a steady and rewarding pace, and there is some real growth in Sano, the main character. Where The Way of the Traitor explored Japan's relationship with Western cultures, The Concubine's Tattoo really looks har The Concubine's Tattoo is written so much better than The Way of the Traitor, that I can barely believe that the same person wrote these two stories! In The Concubine's Tattoo Laura Joh Rowland is back to writing beautiful lines that are evocative of Japanese poetry. The plot moves along at a steady and rewarding pace, and there is some real growth in Sano, the main character. Where The Way of the Traitor explored Japan's relationship with Western cultures, The Concubine's Tattoo really looks hard at the roles of women in Japanese society. The story centers around women and around what options were open (and closed) to them in Japan at the time this story takes place. Perhaps not surprisingly, sex, marriage, and motherhood are the dominate themes in women's lives, and this story looks at how those roles serve as motivations for various women in the story. There is a lot of sex in this particular installment of the Sano Ichiro series. Heterosexual, homosexual, voyeurism, violent sex, loving sex--it's all there. It seems like someone is having sex in at least every other chapter. Much of this, though, I think is used as a way to illustrate that women's greatest power and their greatest vulnerability comes from their sexual roles in this society. I really only had two problems with this book. First of all, why in the world, in every Sano Ichiro book I've read so far, does the protagonist always let the bad guy know that he's on to him?! I mean, seriously, if you had an enemy and you discovered his plot against you, would you really walk up to him and tip him off that you had found him out?! This just drives me crazy. No sane person would do that! Secondly, this book was riddled with typos. And not even normal ones. Many times I found "chüd" in place of "child." "Sano-sarc" also showed up many times instead of "Sano-san." The story was good enough that I did my best to disregard these typos, but there was some significant copy editing that needed to be done. I am looking forward to seeing how Sano's life is going to progress in the rest of the books in this series. With this introduction of a bright, smart, feisty, loving wife into the story, Sano's life should get a lot more interesting and a lot more fun.

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