Sunday, January 24, 2010

RAview: Laura Joh Rowland's The Cloud Pavilion

I'm going to count this as my first review of 12 for the Thriller and Suspense challenge, per the rules, although I do intend to focus more on thrillers, and Laura Joh Rowland's The Cloud Pavilion is a mystery. I'm not sure I entirely know the difference between thrillers and mysteries, but I think it has a lot to do with tone. In the Cloud Pavilion, readers aren't sitting on the edge of their seats in suspense. It's more of a slow reveal as we follow detective Sano Ichiro investigate kidnappings and rapes happening in his 1701 Japan.

Story line: This is the 14th in a series, but it works very well on its own, as the mystery is self-contained and characters recall events from previous books to establish context. This is a historical mystery, and the setting and details are important. Food, markets, clothing, and legal, class-related, and cultural aspects of the 18th-century Japan setting are described in rich detail. There is also a focus on samurai extrasensory capabilities, which lends an air of mysticism to the book. Although there are descriptions of violence, this is not a grisly book. There are domestic scenes among Sano and his family as well as political posturing and Sano's experiences working for the shogun.

I listened to this on audio, so pacing is more difficult for me to identify, but I would say the 10 discs felts like they were flying by. There is a sense of anticipation regarding the case, although there's not much nail-biting suspense as the characters are generally not in immediate danger through most of the story. Characters are well-established and Sano's familial and political relationships drive the plot. Despite the realities of the historical time and place (e.g., rape was not actually illegal), Sano's wife, Reiko, is pretty tough.

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