Rashomon Gate


I. J. Parker


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

July 11, 2008

he protagonist of this book, Sugawara Akitada, is a law clerk in 11th century Japan. In this role he stolidly works as a solver of crimes. His loyal servant Tora is a much sunnier personality. Tora will spend a night with the ladies or out drinking, without a care in the world. Perhaps this novel would have been better if told from the point of view of Tora, rather than the subdued Akitada.

There is a list of characters in the front of the book, which is helpful, because at the beginning of the novel there are many characters thrown at the reader. I found it difficult to remember who is who. Parker introduces us to most of the staff of the university where Akitada has accepted a temporary teaching position. Parker wants us to view each of the faculty members as a possible suspect, so we meet each professor in turn - they are an eccentric lot, but I still couldn't keep them all straight. The real reason Akitada is at the university is that his old mentor/teacher is being blackmailed.

Not only are there too many characters, there are too many story threads. The univesity is apparently a hotbed of crime and mystery. In addition to the blackmailing case, Akitada is soon hearing from one young prince about how his grandfather "miraculously disappeared" - was it actually a political murder? Meanwhile, a pregnant musician girl is murdered. And then someone kills Oe, one of the other university professors. And what is the significance of the murdered beggar? The biggest case is the mystery of Tamako, the beautiful daughter of the blackmailed professor - Akitada loves Tamako, but why does she refuse to allow him to court her?

Naturally, Akitada solves all these mysteries by the end of the book. But I didn't like the solutions. I know it is common in the mystery genre to have the villain explain his motives to the hero just before killing him - and of course the authorities overhear this confession and the hero is saved - but this time-honored plot device should only be used sparingly, certainly not more than once in the same novel!

I presume this novel is well researched an accurate, but it seemed odd to me that Akitada would lock his door - I always envision medieval Japanese building as just thin screens and a thatched roofs - the kind of stuff that a ninja can easily burst through - why bother locking a door when the rest of the house is so flimsy? Akitada leaves his card when he visits - that seems like a European trait, not tenth century Japan. The Japanese used Chinese characters and considered Chinese poetry to be the highest art form? I did not know there was so much cultural exchange with the continent.

I also didn't like the bad illustrations in the edition of the book I read. It's great when good artists are employed to illustration a novel, but why bother placing such amateurish art work into this book?

I was not impressed by this book and doubt I will read any more books in this series.