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by I.J. Parker
Penguin, September 2007
416 pages
ISBN: 0143112597

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I J Parker has demonstrated a strong interest in ancient Japanese history and has used it in her novels set in eleventh-century Japan. Her main protagonist is Sugawara Akitida, a man who knows how to ask questions and do his own investigations, so earning the respect (as well the ire) of a lot of influential people. He is currently responsible for the town of Eshigo, a reward for a case he solved a while back. He is not doing so well and now he has been given a golden opportunity by a group of government officials, one he dares not squander. He has a young wife and a sickly son and he needs to be able to provide for them.

The crime occurs in Sado Island, an island of exile where prisoners and disgraced government officials are sent in order to see the error of their ways. The victim is Prince Okisada, a rebel, whose death distressed a lot of people and needs to be investigated quietly. Akitida goes undercover as a prisoner and slowly manages to ingratiate himself with people who might provide clues to this mystery.

The book is rich in its visual imagery with the authorís descriptions of the exile's island and the people who are part of that society. It is an isolated area, a place that holds a lot of stories in addition to that of the death of Prince Okisada. Akitida is a conflicted man trying to do his job while having to pretend to be someone other than who he is, which complicates his relationships with the friends, acquaintances, and enemies he makes on the island.

Readers might be put off from the book because of its setting and that would be a mistake. Parker writes a good mystery only in an unusual setting. It is worth giving ISLAND OF EXILES a try.

Reviewed by Angel L. Soto, December 2007

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