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With “The Iris Fan,” Laura Joh Rowland draws to a close her long-running saga of righteous Edo Period lawman Sano Ichiro. From “Shinju” (1994), the saga has partially overlapped with the reign of fifth shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi — a superstitious eccentric who ruled Japan from 1680.

The Iris Fan, by Laura Joh Rowland
Minotaur Books, Fiction.

It’s now 1709. An assassin bungles an attempt to murder the sleeping Tsunayoshi by stabbing him with the sharp blades of a metal fan. A trail of bloody footprints leads to the harem quarters of Edo castle.

As usual there is no shortage of suspects or of misleading testimony from witnesses. Fading rapidly from his wounds, Tsunayoshi orders Sano to investigate the attempt on his life, and once again the lawman must contend not only with his scheming archenemy, chamberlain Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, but also with acting shogun Ienobu — both of whom are bent on seizing control of the country.

In a desperate stratagem designed to nullify Sano’s resistance, Yanagisawa orders his own daughter to wed Sano’s son, horrifying Sano’s already estranged wife, Reiko.

The supernatural also figures prominently. Sano’s once-trusted lieutenant, Hirata — who’d gone AWOL to dabble in the dark arts — returns to Edo endowed with superhuman powers and possessed by the spirit of a dead general bent on destroying the Tokugawa regime.

In the afterword to this chaotic romp through Japanese history, author Rowland informs readers she’s pulling the plug on the series. While her cliffhanger plots will be missed, it’s nice, in a way, that she’s able to depart on her own terms. Thanks, Laura, for 20 years of entertaining fiction, and good luck with your future literary efforts.

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