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The Crane Pavilion

by Mark Schreiber

The 12th full-length novel by German-born author I.J. Parker to feature crime-solving government official Sugawara Akitada, “The Crane Pavilion” takes place in Kyoto in the latter part of the Heian Period (794-1185).

The Crane Pavilion, by I.J. Parker.
I-J-P Books, Fiction.

While posted to Kyushu as a provincial governor, Akitada receives word that his wife, Tamako, and their son have died during childbirth, leaving him to raise a young son and daughter alone.

The despondent Akitada returns to Kyoto without awaiting official orders, risking his already shaky career at the Ministry of Justice. While he pines away for his lost wife, his assets become dangerously depleted, so his loyal deputies Tora, Gemba and Saburo and his Kyoto police inspector friend Kobe scheme to help Akitada get over his misfortune by asking him to investigate a mysterious woman’s apparent suicide.

Soon afterward, Saburo, a clever professional spy who does investigative work for Akitada, becomes embroiled in a separate case, when a blind female masseuse is arrested on suspicion of cutting the throat of a dozing customer.

Akitada, an aristocrat and cultured scholar, is the antithesis of the swashbuckling samurai ordinarily associated with pre-modern Japan; but he is motivated to see justice done, and when the occasion warrants, he is not averse to taking risks and getting into a scrap — although this time he is nearly killed by ruthless members of Kyoto’s underworld.

The book’s narrative, involving crime and detection of two parallel cases in a single novel, follows the formula of Asia’s traditional whodunits. Parker, an academic before she turned to mystery fiction, has been favorably compared to Robert van Gulik, another European-born author, whose popular “Judge Dee” mysteries were set in Tang Dynasty China.