This past weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in the Dewey’s 24 Hour Reverse Readathon. I had a tremendous amount of fun spending the day reading, and had a chance to read several fantastic books that have been sitting on my TBR shelves for quite some time.

The first book I read during the Reverse Readathon was Shinjū, by Laura Joh Rowland.

Shinjū tells the story of Sano Ichirō, a relatively new senior police commander who is finding his role as an adminstrator less than satisfactory. When the bodies of an artist and a high-born lady are found together in the river, the official verdict is that it is a shinjū (double suicide). Sano is ordered to conceal the lady’s identity, and told to “dispense with the matter as quickly and quietly as possible” (Rowland 23).

However, Sano’s instincts won’t allow him to simply sweep the two deaths under the rug, and he begins to investigate. He soon discovers that the apparent shinjū is actually murder. His determination to continue the investigation may endanger not just his job, but also his life.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Shinjū! Not only was the mystery very well crafted, but I was extremely impressed with the author’s ability to transport the reader into Sano’s world. Her descriptions paint a vivid picture of the setting. I found it very easy to visualize the world of the novel as I read, and that really contributed to my overall enjoyment of the book.

Rowland also does a great job of incorporating the cultural expectations of the time period in which the book is set into the story. Sano is constantly torn between his duty to his superiors and family, and his responsibility to the victims, and that conflict makes him even more compelling as a character.

As always, I do think it is important to note story elements which may cause emotional distress for readers. Shinjū does include references to ritualistic suicide, characters who have been sold into prostitution, examples of police brutality, and scenes involving torture.

If you are a fan of mystery novels, and enjoy historical fiction, I think you will love Shinjū. Even if I had not been participating in the Reverse Readathon, I would have had a very difficult time putting this book down. The narrative is fast-paced, and filled with intrigue and action.

I am definitely going to be reading the rest of the series, and I look forward to reading Laura Joh Rowland’s other series as well.

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