Becoming a senior police commander in the city that would become Tokyo was never a career objective of Sano Ichiro. Indeed, Sano would prefer to make his fortune by the sword as did his samurai ancestors. The Japan of the Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, however, allows few opportunities to practice the Way of the Warrior (bushido), and a man must earn his rice insofar as he is able. With the assistance of his father and in spite of his lack of formal training, Sano is appointed one of the forty-seven yoriki (police commander) who supervise the sprawling city of Edo and its teeming multitudes.
Unlike his colleagues, Sano was not able to inherit his position, his conduct reveals his shortcomings in this regard. Yet if Sano lacks the traditional knowledge of the yoriki, that is to his credit, since it is evident that his colleagues are more concerned about their position in the world than in the performance of their duty. His concern for fulfilling his duty places Sano in considerable jeopardy when he rejects the conventional wisdom regarding the death of a particularly prominent noblewoman. Sano realizes that a verdict of suicide might be convenient in the case, but it was anything but correct. Thus, despite warnings from all and sundry he conducts a truly independent investigation and thereby places his life and those who assist him in peril.
Rowland set herself a difficult task: to render the complexities of feudal Japan comprehensible to an audience whose awareness is limited to watching the television production of James Clavell’s SHOGUN. By and large she succeeds in her task, although her rendering of a forensic pathologist named Dr. Ito Genboku forces the issue.