Book Quote:

“”…he mulled over his long list of poor judgments and the human losses his inadequacy had caused.””

Book Review:

Review by Kirstin Merrihew (JAN 10, 2010)

Sugawara Akitada, an eleventh-century Japanese senior secretary in the Ministry of Justice, is determined to prove the innocence of two men: one, his current retainer who has been arrested for the murder of a blind woman, and two, a convict who died in exile. As he bails out Togo, his accused employee, and searches for deceased convict Haseo’s family, Akitada also contends with a contemptuous superior, Minister Sogo, and the persistent rumors of a small pox epidemic in the city.

All of these worries eat at his relationship with his only wife Tamako (unlike other men his age he hasn’t taken multiple wives — yet). Listening to her own women’s network, Tamako believes the epidemic is real and wants to protect their young son from exposure to it. But her husband, who functions in official circles in the capital and who gets out among the people more than she, insists that, since there has been no warning announcement by the government, those who leave the city out of fear of contagion are just foolishly causing panic. The rift between husband and wife grows as he rashly judges her actions and acts himself without consulting her. Feeling the distance, Akitada yearns for someone who can give him the warmth he once shared with Tamako and this leads him into a tempting situation with a beautiful woman who is already a wife of a powerful — and dangerous — lord. Akitada is a man from another culture and another time, but his tendency to discount his wife’s opinions and behavior, his focus on job and personal crusades while allowing vital domestic issues to fester, remind us that the centuries have not changed us human beings that much. For Akitada, his “poor judgments” will exact a heavy price on him, Tamako, and others. He truly desires to do the right thing but repeatedly speaks or acts precipitously. This Achilles’ heel of Akitada’s renders him a character whom the reader may long to guide out of his misconceptions. Alas, one can only stand by and watch the consequences.

About fifty years ago, Robert van Gulik authored a series about crime-fighting magistrate Judge Dee who lived in seventh-century China. One of these volumes was called The Chinese Maze Murders: A Judge Dee Mystery (Gulik, Robert Hans, Judge Dee Mystery.). I. J. Parker’s The Convict’s Sword follows, to a degree, in van Gulik’s footsteps. Although Judge Dee is a wiser man than Akitada, he also seems, by design, more god-like and less human. And Judge Dee is more secure professionally and domestically. It is interesting to compare van Gulik and Parker’s depiction of women. Herself a woman, Parker, in tune with the twenty-first century, compellingly shapes the chasm of communication between the sexes as her female characters inhabit the traditional roles but also emerge with distinct personalities and strong wills.

Containing martial arts and mayhem, drama, intrigue, and romance; The Convict’s Sword is many things including an intricate and absorbing mystery reaching in several directions (although, like many mysteries, the ultimate closeness of its human associations is a trifle too coincidental). This is an as-accurate-as- possible picture of life in Japan among a cross-section of the classes and a poignant look at a harried middle rank civil servant whose sense of duty blinds him. Blindness, this superior novel imparts, isn’t only a physical impairment. Highly recommended.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 27 readers
PUBLISHER: Penguin (Non-Classics) (July 28, 2009)
REVIEWER: Kirstin Merrihew
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

The Dragon Scroll

Hell Screen


January 10, 2010 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: , ,  В· Posted in: 2009 Favorites, Facing History, Japan, Mystery/Suspense

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