Mystery/Thriller Book Reviews

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Grave Undertakings by Ralph McInerny

St. Martin's Minotaur, Jan., 2000.
Hardcover, 374 pages.
ISBN: 0312203098.
Ordering information:

Grave Undertakings
by Ralph McInerny At the request of Mimi O'Toole, Father Dowling hears the last confession of Mimi's dying husband. Vincent O'Toole was in dire need of absolution, being a local mobster who had no doubt sinned a great deal. At his funeral, all the local wiseguys show up at St. Stephens to pay their respects to the deceased. When Mimi wants her husband's body moved to a different burial location, it is discovered that Vincent's coffin is empty. Father Dowling sets out to investigate the life and death of Vincent O'Toole, and is soon embroiled with the Pianone crime family, a love triangle, and of course, murder.

Grave Undertakings is the 19th installment of the popular series starring the Catholic priest and amateur sleuth. The point of view skips around to various characters, a tricky device but which is handled ably by McInerny. The Father Dowling series is literate, heartwarming entertainment which is sure to please, and Grave Undertakings is no exception.

The Samurai's Wife by Laura Joh Rowland

St. Martin's Minotaur, April, 2000.
Hardcover, 261 pages.
ISBN: 031220325X.
Ordering information:

The Samurai's Wife
by Laura Joh Rowland In 17th century Japan an uneasy d├ętente exists between the Shogun, the military leader of the country, and the Emperor, who is deemed to be a direct descendant of the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu. The Emperor, supposedly the moral leader of the country who could bring down the wrath of the gods on the people if he wished, was actually little more than a well-kept prisoner in some ways -- he rarely left his castle and was surrounded by attendants at all times. Sano Ichiro, the Shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People, is sent to the Imperial City of Miyako to investigate the murder of the Left Minister. Sano takes his beloved wife Reiko, who secretly helps him in his investigations, along with him on the trip. Sano's arch rival at the court of the Shogun is Yanagisawa, who secretly also travels to Miyako with the goal of solving the murder first and destroying Sano in the eyes of the Shogun. But the murder investigation turns up some disturbing facts, and Sano and Yanagisawa must work together to protect the Shogun and the country from a bloody revolution. Can Sano trust Yanagisawa even when their interests coincide?

This is the fifth book in Laura Joh Rowland's outstanding historical mystery series set in ancient Japan. Sano, Reiko, Yanagisawa and the Emperor leap to life from the pages of this treasure of a book. 17th century Japan is so incredibly different than America of 2000, that setting a mystery in this time and place is a risky business. Rowland handles it with aplomb. Sano is as compelling a detective as a film noir hero, and his wife Reiko is fascinating as a woman of her day who stretches the bounds of society's strictures to its very limits. This is the historical mystery at its very best. Highly recommended.

--Claire E. White

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