I’m done. I’m calling it quits. The Sano Ichiro series has jumped the shark, and doubled down on its homophobia, to the point where I’m just done with it.
I started The Samurai’s Wife hopeful. It was another case where Sano would have to leave Edo and go to another city, in this case Kyoto. When Sano went to Nagasaki, it was my favorite book in the whole series, so I was looking forward to this installment being a return to form. I was even thinking to myself “If Sano Ichiro ends up like the Star Trek movies, where only every other one is good, I could live with that. I’d be fine with that.”
Then about a third of the way through Rowland made her first fumble. I’ve mentioned before that Rowland has an unfortunate tendency to equate homosexuality with pederasty (i.e. if you’re attracted to men, then you must be attracted to young boys as well!), and obviously, this is nonsense. However, in The Samurai’s Wife, Rowland finally commits to the idea that in order for a gay man to be gay, he must have been molested as a child. As though there is no other possible way for someone to be gay. And at that point, I wanted to scream, to throw the book aside in disgust and shout to Rowland that for the love of God, that’s not how gayness works!
But, as I said in my review of the previous book, I’m too invested in the characters and world to simply give up now. So while I skimmed through the rest of the book, I did not give up entirely. If Wife could only successfully tie up the plot threads that still intrigued me, I would be able to get some level of satisfaction from the whole ordeal. Oh god, if only Rowland could do that, I could gain some quantum of solace!
Alas, Rowland failed to do even this. Firstly, she fucked up the murder case. You know, the whole thing driving the plot of this book? Yeah, so, in this book, the murder victim was killed by what appeared to be a sonic scream of some kind, like Black Canary or Banshee or sumsuch. At first glance, Sano comes to the conclusion that the murderer must have used a kiai, which is what he’s calling the sonic scream despite its actual meaning being just the cry you vocalize in martial arts when making a strike but whatever what does it matter what does any of it matter just please for the love of all that is holy this is a Scooby Doo mystery right? In the last four books there has been nothing overtly paranormal going on, so for Rowland to spring some supernatural silliness on us now would make no sense. Obviously the murderer actually used some mundane method to kill their victim, and made it look like magic, which Sano will uncover like a Scooby Doo monster, right? …Right?
Wrong. Not only does the kiai turn out to be real, but it is, in fact, the supernatural power of the character with severe Tourette’s syndrome. You or I may think that Tourette’s is simply a neurological condition, but in Sano’s world, all those tics and outbursts are actually stray kiai energy blasts coming off yer man. And if he focuses the energy into a killing, sonic scream, he no longer stutters or tics! He’s normal! Well, apart from the whole killing thing, but, you know. (Yes, I’m giving away who the murderer is. I do not care. This book is not good enough to warrant a spoiler tag.)
Secondly, Rowland fucks up the overarching rivalry between Sano and Yanagisawa. By far the most unique and most interesting feature of the Sano Ichiro series is the conflict between the titular inspector and the shogun’s chamberlain, who actively plots against and sabotages Sano’s efforts throughout each case. The reason this works so well is that it allows Rowland to combine the whodunnit and howcatchem mystery genres into a delicious blend. Now not only is the reader invested in discovering who the killer was, but they’re also invested in seeing how the unwitting Sano will wriggle out of the various traps Yanagisawa has set up for him. I should clarify, if it weren’t already obvious, that Yanagisawa hates Sano. He despises the inspector and desperately wants to see him dead or disgraced, and he continuously blames Sano for his own mistakes and fuckups, which only further his hatred of the man.
In this book Yanagisawa risks it all to save Sano’s life. There was no tactical advantage to be gained by this, it was simply the right thing to do, and the book ends with the pair as, if not friends, at least having called a truce. This. Makes. No. Sense. There is no reason for Yanagisawa to do this after everything we’ve seen of him in the past four books, but for some reason Rowland decides to make him do it? I guess she ran out of ideas on how to further the rivalry between the two, but as a fan of this rivalry, seeing Sano and Yanagisawa become all chummy by the end felt so wrong.
In the end, I must admit that Arthur’s Maxim holds true, as it always does. Rowland has punished my indulgence with something truly abhorrent, and I only have myself to blame. So I’m done. I’m done with this series. I’m not reading any more Sano Ichiro books. I’ll read James Clavell or Eric Van Lustbader before I read another Laura Joh Rowland (okay, maybe that’s going a bit too far, but still). I’m just. Plain. Done. Goodbye, Sano Ichiro. It was fun while it lasted. But now you’ve jumped the shark, and I must leave you. You can slam the door on your way out.
Marco Cian is a second-year ALT in Hyogo Prefecture. He loves a good mystery (which this is not), and good historical fiction (which this is not). If you want to hear him talk about stuff he actually likes, you can head on over to his website here.