Book review: Death at the Crossroads

I love reading mystery novels. Someday I would like to write one myself.

There is a handicap. Not only can't I think like a mystery, I never figure out who did it in the books I read. Actually, I seldom even care. Since mystery novels are about restoring the damaged world, you'd think I would.

Maybe it's because I see mystery novels, or at least the kind I like to read, as a way of investigating a world, a milieu, a culture. What is important to me is not the structure of deceit and justice, but the revelation of character and relationship that comes from the impact of the crime. People's world is disrupted, someone digs through their lives, and everyone behaves more dramatically than they perhaps otherwise would. In disrupting the structure of life, the crime reveals more about that structure than any other approach could.

So didn't mind (much) that the samurai detective in Dale Furutani's Death at the Crossroads doesn't really do much detection. Furutani uses the crime, the discovery of the body of an anonymous merchant found at the crossroads with an arrow in his back, as a way of investigating the tensions in early Tokugawa Japan. There are some entertaining characters, clever stratagems, and an underlying sense of growing oppression as the new regime, which will rule Japan for the next two and a half centuries, tightens its grip.  The detective is a ronin, a masterless samurai, who happens on this crime while pursuing a larger mission, trying to find a lost girl. He is alone, his world and structure of loyalties destroyed.

It's light, quick, and deft.  There are two more books after this one, where the ronin pursues his mission, and I will seek them out.