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by I. J. Parker
Penguin, November 2006
368 pages
ISBN: 0143035614

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

BLACK ARROW is the fourth book in the ancient Japanese series featuring the young nobleman Sugawara Akitada. Akitada and his pregnant wife Tomiko find themselves travelling north so that he can take up his new post as the provisional Governor of Echigo.

The post is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, the post is a prestigious one but also on the other hand it spells danger. Echigo is an inaccessible and glacial region and is known for its unfriendliness to newcomers. This is immediately evident on his arrival where Akitada finds his authority being challenged.

He encounters fierce opposition from the local authorities, who have driven off all the previous representatives that have been sent from the capital so that they can preserve their dishonest self-governance. From the moment he arrives in the provincial capital of Naoetsu, Akitada encounters festering resentment towards imperial authority, and against him as a representative.

When a local innkeeper is murdered and three travellers are framed for his death Akitada’s attempts to find the underlying cause of exactly what happened are hampered not only by the resistance his receives from the locals to answer his questions, but also because it is clear that a cover-up has taken place.

Akitada's attempts to bring law and order to the area are met with mixed results and he finds himself having to deal with insubordinate soldiers and defiant merchants. He also finds himself surprisingly dealing with some difficult and emotional issues as he unravels the mystery behind the seditious inhabitants.

This series is very reminiscent of the Robert Van Guilk series featuring Judge Dee. The stakes are much higher for Akitada in BLACK ARROW and this may give an insight into the reason why there is more violence expressed in this book than readers have come to expect.

Interwoven with this excellent mystery is a strong sense of Japan and its culture. The reader is introduced to lesser-known aspects of Japanese history, which is adroitly told without a sense of it being a history lesson. BLACK ARROW is smoothly told and is an appealing and terrific read. If you are a fan of Japanese culture then this series must be on your 'to read' list.

Reviewed by Ayo Onatade, December 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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