This mystery novel, set in medevial Japan (17th century) is the
first of a trilogy. Japan has just been united under a Shogun, following a large war. A
rogue Samurai (when asked his name, the samurai responds: "Matsuyama Kaze", which means
"Pine Mountain Wind", but only Jiro, the charcoal seller, notices that the samurai is looking at
a pine-covered mountain when he responds, and what do lowly charcoal sellers know?) is
criss crossing Japan, looking for a missing young girl. When he approaches a crossroads,
he finds the charcoal seller bending over a dead man. The charcoal seller scampers off to
tell the villagers, and the Magistrate comes forth to conduct a cursory investigation. Kaze
decides to hang around the village a do some investigating of his own.
This is a slim book, just over 200 pages. It is a who-dunnit mystery,
but the best part of the novel is the characterizations, particularly Kaze. Kaze is a sympathetic
and clever man, and also a fierce warrior, though he prefers not to display that skill.
The people of the village are either dimwitted or corrupt, though Jiro and the servant girl
at the inn come off in a positive light. Kaze's questions and behavior baffle the villagers
- why does he care that a simple merchant was killed, isn't it obviously the work of Boss
Kuemon's gang, the outlaw chief?
My only complaint with this book is the clue that Ichiro has a
secret cache of weapons that include a bow and two swords (obviously, samurai) but this is
never explained. Or else I missed it. And why does Manase have Kaze captured with a net and
beaten senseless, only to immediately let him go?
Manase is the Lord of the District. He is obviously a man of refinement,
and his sophistication seems misplaced in this poor district so far removed from any large
city. Like the Magistrate, he is content lay blame for the dead man on Boss Kuemon. Nor does
any one seem interested in leading a party to attack the outlaw camp. Kaze has to deal with
all of these obstacles as he investigates who the true killer is.
I don't know much about medevial Japan, but the book seems authentic
to me, and it moves along briskly. I intend to read the next book in the series.