Monday, October 5, 2009
This is a heartbreaking book.
Set in eleventh-century Japan, I.J. Parker's The Convict's Sword deals with a smallpox epidemic. The epidemic destroys families and marriages.
Sugawara Akitada and his retainer Tora work to solve the murder of street singer, Tomoe. As things work out, her murder ties back to the death of one of Sugawara's friends five years ago. Authorities wrongly convicted his friend of another murder, and, as Sugawara and Tora work through Tomoe's death, they find her death leads backwards.
Sugawara is a middle level bureaucrat in the Ministry of Justice. Parker shows Sugawara's struggles with the eleventh-century tradition-bound bureaucracy.
The book is strong on setting. It is filled with action. But the heartbreaking part of the story revolves around the smallpox outbreak.
The Convict's Sword reminds me again of something we forget in this age of miracle drugs and good hospitals (at least in this nation). When you are defenseless against an epidemic, you are about as defenseless as human beings can be.
I recommend The Convict's Sword on two levels. If you like historical mysteries or have a special interest in Japan, you should love this book. Parker is superb at settings. But the book is also filled with action. Those who read for action should enjoy this book too.