Grumpy Bird Reviews: Shinju

When I write I still want to read, I just don’t want to read anything too similar to what I write. That’s why I picked up a detective story set in Edo era Japan. And I am really glad I did.


Author: Laura Joh Rowland


Quick Review: A quite fun and rewarding read. Rowland does a great job of dropping in enough details about Japan without distracting from the story. Although I will admit feeling the fourth act dragged a little, I never had any problems picking the book up and emerging myself in its world. Also, I think I might just have to rush and pick up book number two in the series.

Spoilers Lurk Below

Analysis: A few years back I tried to write my own little story about set in Japan. (You can read the remnant here and here.)  The hardest part for me was trying to figure out how to describe the look of Japan. So much of the fiction I read is more European based and almost takes for granted that its audience will understand the fashion. I feel that fiction set in Japan can’t necessarily do the same. It troubled me, and I never really wrapped my head around the problem.

I’m bringing all that up because I am really impressed with how seamlessly most of the descriptions fit into the narrative. It did not get a jargon dump, or feel like a lot of exposition. Nor did it feel to sacrifice the setting by shortening descriptions. What a great Japanese flavor without feeling over-saturated.

Really, the only thing I can remember feeling clunky was when she used the word runin (with a bar over the u that I can’t figure out how to produce). I’ve only only ever encountered the spelling ronin before, so I admit that threw me. That said, this and other words with a similar sound, only happened three or four times, so this is not really a problem. But it did stick out.

My only complaint was that I felt the fourth act (out of five. Because Shakespeare.) dragged. This was the “our hero fails and sinks to his lowest point.” Don’t get me wrong. It was well written. But it did feel like there were several areas of failure that just kept coming. I couldn’t shake my desire to either have them happen quicker or more spaced out rather than in a chunk

By the way, I am not the best at playing the game of mystery novels, and this is a mystery novel. What I mean, is that I don’t really care about trying to solve the puzzle before the protagonist. I’d rather let the story unfold before me. And Rowland does unfold that mystery quite nicely. The solution fits, as does the hero’s inability to see it.

Wrap Up: This was a well written detective story with a unique setting. It had a great mix of crime, violence, and adventure. Our hero, Sano Ichiro was a man of convictions and faults who was also likable. If you are looking for novels about old Japan, this might be what you are looking for.

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