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The Snow Empress    by Laura Joh Rowland order for
Snow Empress
by Laura Joh Rowland
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2007 (2007)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Travel back to the end of the 17th century, and visit feudal Japan, the world of shoguns and samurai, a volatile culture of shifting allegiances and violent partisanship. It is here - once again for readers already familiar with the novels of Laura Joh Rowland - that we join Chamberlain Sano Ichiro and his wife Lady Reiko of Edo Castle. During a festive and carefree moon-viewing party, Sano's and Reiko's eight-year old son Masahiro suddenly disappears, and now the distraught couple frantically search for their missing child.

Meanwhile, Lord Matsumae of the northern province of Ezogashima has not appeared for his obligatory visit to the shogun, and Sano's bitter rival Lord Matsudaira has persuaded the shogun to send Sano to Ezogashima to find out what has detained the missing official.

Sano, resentful of Matsudaira's manipulation of the shogun, nevertheless must dutifully obey and make the journey to the isolated and primitive Ezogashima; at the same time, though, Sano realizes that Matsudaira may have been involved in Masahiro's disappearance, and - because of Matsudaira's diabolical scheming - all evidence suggests that Masahiro may be in Ezogashima.

And so Sano and Reiko - along with several loyal friends and colleagues - make the voyage to Ezogashima, officially to confront Lord Matsumae but more urgently to find the missing Masahiro. When they arrive in Ezogashima's Fukuyama City at the end of a harrowing, death-defying journey, they soon find themselves enmeshed in a bewildering environment that is beset by what seems to be madness, duplicity, dangerous secrets, hostile rivalries, supernatural possession, and murder.

In fact, Lord Matsumae is deranged by grief at the loss of his lover Tekare (pejoratively known to some as The Snow Empress, a complicated woman who had mystical and questionable powers), and he quickly gains the upper hand over Sano, Reiko, and their companions. Now, to save everyone's life - including his own, his wife's, and his son's - the great detective Sano must find out who was responsible for Tekare's bizarre death.

Sano is not alone in this challenge, though, because Reiko has considerable skills and experience as a detective who had helped Sano in the past; Reiko has a special 'ability to get close to the women' who might know something about the death of Tekare and the disappearance of Masahiro 'and elicit the most private facts from them.'

But Sano and Reiko may finally be confronting insurmountable odds, and they must quickly find out what happened to The Snow Empress if they ever hope to see their son alive again.

Consistently fascinating and seductive, The Snow Empress is another top-notch mystery from Laura Joh Rowland. Rich in historical and cultural details, the intricately designed plot and compelling characterizations will entertain readers who enjoy unusual murder mysteries with exotic settings and provocative premises.

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