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by I. J. Parker
St. Martin's Minotaur, July 2002
352 pages
ISBN: 0312287984

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Very little is known about Heian Kyo (modern Kyoto) the 11th century capital of Japan, but Parker has taken bits of legends and stories and built them into a beautiful tale of life in medieval Kyoto.

Hirata, a law professor finds a blackmail note in the pocket of his formal gown which had been hanging on a hook while he was at a university function. He calls on his former student, Sugawara Akitada, now a clerk at the Ministry of Justice to act as a professor and, while teaching law to the students, do some investigating.

Akitada had spent some time living in the home of his professor when he was a young student, but moved back to the house he shares with his mother and sisters after his father died. He is pleased to accept this commission from Hirata since he feels he can never repay Hirata for his support when he was a young person needing direction.

A young woman, several months pregnant, is found dead in the park. A beggar was found nearby with a beautiful silk sash that had belonged to the woman. Later, one of the professors is found dead under suspicious circumstances.

One of his students is 10 year old Lord Minamoto Sadamu who had been living with his grandfather until recently. Prince Yoakira had been praying at a distant shrine when he soddenly disappeared. The emperor has declared his transfiguration a miracle and an evil retainer has taken over Sadamu's care. One of the most touching sections of the book is the chapter in which Tora, Akitada's servant, teaches Minamoto some manner while also teaching him how to make a kite.

The picture of 11th century Japan, where the educated class tries to emulate the Chinese ideal, and life was circumscribed by one's social class and education, is beautifully depicted. The violence of the age is also unveiled, as in the tale of the two bodyguards Tora brings to help Akitada, and the brutal methods used by police to get a confession. I eagerly await the next book in the series, and will look for the Shamus award winning short story, AKITADA'S FIRST CASE, which introduced the character.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, February 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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