Kill the Shogun


Dale Furutani


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

February 5, 2005

This is the third and final book in a series set in ancient Japan, 1603, concerning the adventures of a rogue samurai who calls himself Matsuyama Kaze - which means Pine Mountain Wind - who is a master swordsman. Despite the fact that his lord has been defeated by the current Shogun, Kaze still has a mission to perform. The dying wife of his lord tasked him with finding her daughter. Kaze has been searching through Japan in these three novels, and now he is very close to finding her. Unfortunately, it seems she is in Edo, where the new Shogun is building his capital. So Kaze must continue his quest in the heart of his enemies stronghold.

At the beginning of the novel, an attempt is made on the Shogun's life by an assassin using one of the new fangled muskets that the Europeans have brought. (One minor point - back in 1603 the guns were extremely inaccurate, there was no rifling in the gun barrel and the lead bullets were not perfectly spherical, and thus would spin, causing the shot to veer of at unexpected angles. I think this is why the armies lined up their troops in mass formations and all fired in unison - it didn't matter if some shots went wildly astray, the net effect would be a wall of bullets. So how could the assassin in 1603 be so accurate with his musket?) Unfortunately for Kaze, he happens to be near the scene of the assassination attempt, and is recognized by a guard. The authorities conclude that Kaze is attempting to slay the Shogun, and a massive manhunt ensues. With all the soldiers in Edo looking for Kaze, it is difficult for him to pursue his own search for the missing daughter of his lord.

Kaze is an awesome swordsman, his sword prowess is superhuman. But the author also takes pains to identify Kaze as different from regular samurai in his behavior as well. He treats peasants and merchants as fellow humans. He is generous and humorous. Kaze is an entirely likeable protagonist.

This story is not as much a "mystery" as the two preceeding volumes in this series. This is more a tale of Kaze overcoming awesome obstacles rather than figuring out a baffling crime. The element of "whodunit" is confined to the question of who is attempting to kill the Shogun - because obviously it isn't Kaze.

Even though I enjoyed all three of the books, I only awarded three stars because they seem too short. This book weighs in at 228 pages in the hardcover edition that I read. I wish that Furutani had spent more effort in increased development of characters besides Kaze. The writing is very economical - direct and clear, with out long winded descriptions, and without meandering into subplots. One thing I enjoy most about historical novels is information of how other cultures in other times survived. Furutani has done his research, and everything rings true (except the accuracy of the gun) but these lean novels fail to give that epic sweep of ancient Japan like Shogun by James Clavell does. Still, the series is a good quick read.