(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

BUNDORI features the return of Laura Joh Rowland’s Japanese sleuth Sano Ichiro, whom Shogun Tsunayoshi charges to solve a bizarre ceremonial murder. A poor samurai has been decapitated, and his painted head nail;ed to a wooden plank. Long ago, this used to be the fashion for making a war trophy, called “bundori” in Japanese, out of the corpse of a slain enemy. By the year of 1648, however, which is when this mystery takes place, this custom is no longer common.

Sano quickly realizes that the Shogun’s powerful but psychologically damaged chamberlain, Yanagisawa, jealously tries to prevent him from solving the case. Because of his code of honor, Sano feels that he can not go against Yanagisawa, even as the ceremonial bundori murders start to multiply and a panic grips the city of Edo.

Sano is given the ambiguous help of the attractive female ninja assassin Aoi. Because of her family’s tradition, however, Aoi is beholden to the evil chamberlain, who forces her to spy on Sano and attempt to sabotage his efforts. When Sano discovers that the killings are part of a deranged revenge plot with roots deep in Japan’s medieval past, he is able to limit the list of subjects to four. Unfortunately for Sano, Chamberlain Yanagisawa is one of them.

In a fascinating climax aboard a storm-swept vessel cast adrift towards the open ocean, Sano finally confronts the murderer and tries to bring that person to justice. Exciting to the very end, and with its rich description of Japanese lives, loves, and dark obsessions during the Shogun period, Rowland’s BUNDORI offers not only a first-rate mystery but also a view at a fascinating warrior society beset by high intrigue, lost honor, and a deranged killer.