Book Review: The Iris Fan by Laura Joh Rowland

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Title: The Iris Fan
Series: Sano Ichiro Mystery Series (Book 18)
Author: Laura Joh Rowland
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: December 9, 2014
Genre: Historical Mystery



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The Iris FanThe Iris Fan
A Novel of Feudal Japan
Sano Ichiro Mystery Series (Book 18)
Laura Joh Rowland
Minotaur Books, December 2014
ISBN 9781250047069

From the publisher—

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.

Riveting and richly imagined, with a magnificent sense of time and place, The Iris Fan is the triumphant conclusion to Laura Joh Rowland’s brilliant series of thrillers set in feudal Japan.

I always find it difficult to read the last book in a series when I know ahead of time that it is, indeed, the last and I usually take the coward’s approach, putting it off till my own mental nagging gets the best of me. I couldn’t do that this time since I agreed to participate in the author’s blog tour so here I am, wallowing in my own self-pity at the thought of losing a favorite hero.

Sano Ichiro—and his creator, Laura Joh Rowland—have been in my life for many years ever since I “discovered” this wonderful series with the fourth title, The Concubine’s Tattoo. I immediately fell in booklove and rushed to read the three earlier novels. I’ve never missed one since although I’ve sometimes waited a year or two, my way of avoiding the oh-so-common burnout that can happen to a series reader as well as to the series author.

The attack on the shogun brings Sano back to his position as chief investigator and the twists and surprises at nearly every turn give him what some would call his most inticate case. Any number of potential assassins and intrigues present themselves and Ms. Rowland kept Sano, and me, teetering on the edge the whole way through.

Perhaps it’s fitting that Sano’s last investigation is rife with personal troubles and that his entire family’s survival is on the line. His unwavering devotion to the Way of the Warrior even in the face of death is remarkable and gives us a clear picture of what being a samurai 300 years ago really meant. It’s a world few of us can truly understand today but we can give it the respect it deserves. To put honor—true honor, not a bastardized sort—above everything else is a choice that Sano made years before and he has held to it. He’s a man I can admire and think well of and I appreciate his steadfast loyalty to duty. I will miss him greatly and will miss his intelligent, wonderful wife and companion, Reiko, just as much.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2014.

The Sano Ichiro Mystery Series Titles

The Way of the Traitor
The Concubine’s Tattoo
The Samurai’s Wife
Black Lotus
The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria
The Dragon King’s Palace
The Perfumed Sleeve
The Assassin’s Touch
The Red Chrysanthemum
The Snow Empress
The Fire Kimono
The Cloud Pavilion
The Ronin’s Mistress
The Incense Game
The Shogun’s Daughter
The Iris Fan


An Excerpt from The Iris Fan


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.

The quilt rose and fell with their breathing. The black-robed figure hovered at the threshold, then tiptoed, on feet clad in split-toed socks, into the bedchamber. The hem of its silk kimono slithered across the tatami floor. Its breathing was shallow, ragged with anxiety. It paused by the bed, holding the light over the two sleepers, whose gentle, rhythmic respirations continued. Then it crept to the one on the left, nearest the door. Kneeling, it set the lamp on the bedside table without a sound. In the dim light from the flame, a hand slowly, carefully, drew back the quilt.

Underneath, a man lay on his stomach, his head turned away from the intruder. He wore a white night cap over his hair; his body was naked. The intruder contemplated his thin back, his protruding ribs and spine, his scrawny limbs. Red blotches covered his sallow, sweaty skin. He coughed in his sleep; he didn’t wake.

The intruder sat back on its heels. Its ragged breaths quickened as its hand withdrew from beneath its sash a long, thin object with a sharp, gleaming metal end. The intruder glanced over its shoulder toward the door.

The corridor was silent, still.

Sleet battered the roof with a noise like raining arrowheads.

The wind moaned.

The intruder sucked in a deep, tremulous gasp, raised the weapon high above the sleeping man, and brought it slashing down.


About the Author

Laura Joh RowlandGranddaughter of Chinese and Korean immigrants, Laura Joh Rowland grew up in Michigan and where she graduated with a B.S. in microbiology and a Master of Public Health at the University of Michigan. She is the author of sixteen previous Sano Ichiro thrillers set in feudal Japan. The Fire Kimono was named one of the Wall Street Journal’s “Five Best Historical Mystery Novels”; and The Snow Empress and The Cloud Pavilion were among Publishers Weekly’s Best Mysteries of the Year. She currently lives in New Orleans with her husband. She has worked as a chemist, microbiologist, sanitary inspector and quality engineer.

For more information please visit Laura’s website. You can also follow her on Facebook.


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