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The Concubine's Tattoo (Sano Ichiro #4)

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  1,707 Ratings  ·  77 Reviews
A richly crafted novel set in seventeenth-century Japan, The Concubine's Tattoo unfolds with all the excitement of a superb murder mystery and a sweeping, sensuous portrait of an exotic land. Sano Ichiro, the Shogun's most honorable investigator, is summoned to the imperial palace to find the murderer of Harume, a young concubine poisoned while applying a lover's tattoo. S ...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Minotaur Books (first published 1998)
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Dec 16, 2016 Athena rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: murder mystery or Japanese history readers
I didn't realize this was the 4th in the series but Joh Rowland writes well enough that this is easily read as a stand-alone. It's a basic murder-mystery-with-romance genre set during the Tokugawa shogunate era in Japan.

I enjoyed the historical/cultural setting more than most of the plot or characters, though one major villain of the piece, the hero's nemesis (because heroes must have nemeses apparently) does end up the most interesting of the characters. Joh Rowland did an OK job with the myste
So. Rowland's books about Sano Ichiro the Edo-era detective are my guilty pleasure, because they are so cheesy it's charming. Reading them is like watching a cheap theatrical production: everything just reeks of cardboard and paint, but the actors are so serious and sweaty that it becomes fun to watch them.

There was not even one character behaving reasonably: neither Sano the shogun's investigator, nor his subordinates, his rival Chamberlain Yanagisawa, Sano's new wife Reiko (!), shogun's mother
Oct 17, 2008 Tracy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I like the main character, the mystery was interesting. However, political machinations, whether historical or current, leave me cold.

The relationship between the detective and his new wife was very unsatisfactory. After two meetings that both ended in slammed doors or screaming, I don't buy it that (in addition to being sexually aroused), the two began to fall in love. Two brief arguments and two days of (arranged) marriage do not a convincing couple make. If the author wanted to pull in the "
Sep 17, 2010 Kimberly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love reading about Japan's history and I am especially fascinated by the Edo period when the Tokugawa shogunate was established. Incidentally, it officially began on my birthday (as I've read and heard) in 1603 which can't be mere coincidence and readily explains my interest for the era. This detective series is very well written. Laura Joh Rowland intricately weaves the history, the unflinching beliefs of the samurai of Feudal Japan, and the endearing love story between the sosakan-sama (Sano ...more
May 19, 2013 Barbara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book was really good. I personally really like crime stories, and to read one from the ancient Japan... oh it's Christmas!
The story was awesome, and I've only figured who was the murederer not long before Sano and Hirata, so I was glad! :)
Anyway I've read it wrongly... When I got this book I did not know this was a series and not even the first volume... fortunately I did not have much disadvantage because I did not read the previous volumes.
I really liked the auothor's writing style, also I
I had never heard of the Sano Ichiro series when I picked up this mystery, but it hooked me immediately. I went back and read the first three (Shinjuu, Bundori and The Way of the Traitor), but this one was the best of them, so I am glad I read it first.

The period details are excellent, as is the author's ability to write the characters as people of their time, not as people with 21st-century thinking transported to the 1600s. Rowland's descriptions are effective, and her characters are complex.

Danielle Morency
Mar 02, 2014 Danielle Morency rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
During the era of shoguns, samurai, and rising threat of the Western world's influence, a detective struggles to raise his family, keep it safe from intrigues and plots, keep his honor, and perform his duty to a fickle ruler. I love Ms. Rowland's series. The time period is one that most are familiar with, and yet, with each novel, she reveals details that aren't so well known. I've devoured at least ten of her books, and there is nothing so far that will deter me from continuing to do so.
Emperor Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s concubine has died while carving a tattoo onto her body. The emperor’s lead investigator, Sano Ichiro, must solve the mystery of her death while navigating the delicate balance of the court, the conflicted allegiances of his right-hand-man, and his new wife’s feminist ideals.

The Concubine’s Tattoois genre-fiction; there’s no mistaking it. It makes the unfortunate poor writing choices that most detective mysteries seem to make. If characters are developed at all, it
The Concubine's Tattoo is written so much better than The Way of the Traitor, that I can barely believe that the same person wrote these two stories! In The Concubine's Tattoo Laura Joh Rowland is back to writing beautiful lines that are evocative of Japanese poetry. The plot moves along at a steady and rewarding pace, and there is some real growth in Sano, the main character.

Where The Way of the Traitor explored Japan's relationship with Western cultures, The Concubine's Tattoo really looks har
Jul 04, 2008 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, historical
I picked up the Concubine's Tattoo over the holidays with the plan of reading the next of the Sano Ichiro mysteries soon. With the start of the New Year, I delved into the book and found myself drawn forward. I was not disappointed.

The book begins in Edo, days after Sano Ichiro's return from Nagasaki, at the wedding between Ichiro and Ueda Reiko. The celebration is cut short when Harume, one of the shogun's concubines, runs out from the Large Interior into the procession of concubines and dies.
Lih Hwan
Apr 15, 2016 Lih Hwan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I just spent an excruciating 2 days trying to finish this book.

Basic review: Sano san got married, but a murder occurred at the same time. The murder involved a concubine of the Shogun, which would inevitably pull all of the weight of the internal politics on to Sano San.

Like the previous books, the pacing goes back and forth between characters of importance. We are now introduced to Sano san's new wife and given yet another angle to view Hirata, his retainer. I did enjoy the character developme
Jan 30, 2012 Aidan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Concubine's Tattoo boasts one of Rowland's best opening sequences (in which the discovery of a murder abruptly halts Sano's wedding festivities) and an intriguing mystery that explores the relationships at the Shogun's court yet the novel did not grab me as much as previous entries in the series managed to.

While the mystery itself is actually quite interesting and entertaining, this entry in the series marks a point of transition as we get to know the character of Sano's new wife (who shares
Needed a light mystery to get involved in after plundering through the October Horse--see previous review..and I found just that in this 300+ page book. This mystery takes place in 17th century Japan and it begins with one of the shogun's concubines succumbing to a horrible death. It then falls on the lead detective to solve this mystery, on his wedding day! The story then transgresses, rather seamlessly I might add, to explore the plight of all women in this culture, the relationship between th ...more
It is so hard to rate this, on the one hand it was a beautiful recreation of Edo Period Japan and on the other hand it was a hot mess of tangential storylines, deviant sex, complex backstories....

I remembered half way through why I don't like Laura Joh Rowland's book when she went off on a tangent for the third or fourth time. Honestly, I did not need to know all the inner thoughts and childhood of ALL these characters, in truth only Lady Miyagi and Yanagisawa's childhoods really have bearing on
Sep 09, 2012 Doreen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely a change from the last, face-paced installment. Sano Ichiro is back in Edo, getting his wedding festivities interrupted by the death of the Shogun's favorite concubine. The period detail and mystery were good, as usual -- Laura Joh Rowland is a master of misdirection -- but as the book progressed, I was starting to get a little tired of all the sex. Fortunately, it becomes clear towards the end that it isn't wholly gratuitous, so I wasn't as annoyed as I might have been. I didn't tota ...more
A light but entertaining read. Once again Rowland creates a fascinating world in Japan's Edo Period. It was interesting to read the history of Tokyo and compare its appearance to its modern version. It seemed that so much and also so little have changed in the centuries that have passed. I was in the district of Asakusa last month and the place in Sano's time can still be seen there; there are still many shops around and the temples are still very much visited by the Japanese. (There was even a ...more
Jun 13, 2015 Shotgun rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Už zahájení je originální. většina knih z červení knihovny končí svatbou, tahle detektivka svatbou a navíc hlavního hrdiny začíná a až minimálně do půlky knihy se novomanželé nedostanou k naplnění manželství.
Velká část děje se odehrává v harému, jedna z podezřelých se úspěšně brání výslechu tím, že jednoho z detektivů různě sexuálně uspokojuje. A z různých sexuálních libůstek tu narazíte nejen na S/Mko, ženskou i mužskou homoerotiku a tak podobně. Dozvíme se, že zatímco si gaidžinští mužové v mi
Laura Joh Rowland's The Concubine Tattoo is a lush, superbly detailed tapestry of 17th century Japan, but the characters spoil the picture for me. Her "detective", Sano, is a deeply flawed character, constantly haunted by fears that he will be dishonored and disgraced. His inner turmoil even threatens to ruin his marriage to his headstrong, independent bride. The graphic sex is over the top, even though Rowland is making the point that flirting and sex are the power tools of the claustrophobic r ...more
Nov 10, 2013 Bonnie rated it liked it
I have really liked this series, but I'm wondering if I want to continue reading it because of this book and to a lesser extent the one before it. I really like the cultural details, the plot and the main characters. What I found really downright offensive in this book was sex, which was downright pornographic at times. I skipped a lot of pages trying to escape it. There was homosexual sex, which I escaped when I saw it coming. There was voyeurism which included watching two women together (also ...more
I have liked the first 3 of the Sano Ichiro books more than this one. The mystery itself is intriguing, but there is far too much gratuitous, explicit sex in the book for my taste. This was not so much a part of the first three books, but for some reason it is in this one. It was almost enough to keep me from reading the fifth book in the series, but I decided to give the Sano Ichiro books another chance, because there are not many fiction stories set in feudal Japan, and I do like the character ...more
Ana Villarosa
There are a lot of Japanese culture that I'm not familiar of, at least by this book I learn little by little how feudal Japan was like by that period.
What baffled me still are how women were only second class citizens, in which they only have a limited range of freedom (which I think it still does in Japan),and how a married woman should properly act in front of his husband and such.

In short I like the book because of the mystery, I love learning about foreign culture, and I am a sucker for det
Nov 05, 2012 Roberta rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is the 4th book in the well-written mystery series featuring Sano, a samuai detective. I especially enjoyed Sano's encounters with his assertive new bride and his growing understanding of the stultifying life of women in the late 1600's in Japan. My rating is based on my personal reaction to the plot which has many incidents of graphic sexual material, which I should have expected in a tale called The Concubine's Tattoo -- it's about "concubinage." But it's also about voyeurism, sexual viol ...more
Oct 16, 2012 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oh smut, how you reel me in and keep me coming back for more!

Rowland's Sano Ichiro series is light and enjoyable, perfect for that non-committal reading phase I've been in. I initially picked up The Samurai's Wife, 5th in the series, and was hooked. Going back to the beginning, I've been surprised at just how much sex is in these books! There's a little bit of something for everyone one, though one running theme leaves me more than a little squeamish.

I'd recommend if you're looking for somethi
M.J. Fiori
Thinly characterized and written in purple prose. This would not be so bad if the book were not also egregiously homophobic. That places this installment from the San Ichiro detective series (centered around a samurai detective plying his trade in 17th century Edo) too low even for my usual low-flying sortee into Japan-set escapist literature. I will be giving the rest of the series a pass.
Jul 01, 2009 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009, who-done-it
I enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the rest of the series. My friend who compared medial japan to medial Brittan had some good points. I am curious why an author who is of Chinese and Korean decent chose to write about Japan. The books seem to have a lot of well researched historical detail.
This is my fluff series -- I'm typically NOT a fan of mystery, but I am a big buff for historical fiction, and with Shogun being one of my all-time favorites, this book fits right in. I liked this one more than the last -- I felt there was much more character development, not only for Sano but for two of the other main characters in the book. Guess I'll keep going with the series!
Jan 25, 2009 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: mystery lovers
Recommended to Jane by: Cathy Ashley
What a fun book! A murder mystery which takes place in 17th century Japan. Changing the setting to ancient Japan and including cultural norms of the times makes for a very interesting mystery. Lots of suspects, good development of characters (the Miyagi's were creepy people), nicely paced plot and well developed ending. I look forward to reading more of Rowland's books.
Dec 18, 2012 Stella rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For being a mystery, it's already intriguing. For having historical background, even more intriguing. For characters that are widely ranged in backgrounds and smartly presented, admirable. Plus for the details, as if the whole era lives around, the book is an absorbing piece.
Jun 21, 2013 Liz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. Loved it. I am hooked on the series. The setting is completely new. All the details are fascinating and the plot is quite good as well as interesting. Granted there are spots where you know it's obviously fiction and the drama is there, but I am so reading on in the series.
May 19, 2015 Alice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this several years ago but I really enjoyed it. It was the first of the Sano Ichiro novels that I read but it was very engrossing and fascinating to live in Sano's world for a while. Very much enjoyed this one, probably my favorite of the series.
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Granddaughter of Chinese and Korean immigrants, Laura Joh Rowland grew up in Michigan and where she graduated with a B.S. in microbiology and a Master of Public Health at the University of Michigan. She currently lives in New Orleans with her husband. She has worked as a chemist, microbiologist, sanitary inspector and quality engineer.
More about Laura Joh Rowland...

Other Books in the Series

Sano Ichiro (1 - 10 of 18 books)
  • Shinju (Sano Ichiro, #1)
  • Bundori (Sano Ichiro, #2)
  • The Way of the Traitor  (Sano Ichiro, #3)
  • The Samurai's Wife (Sano Ichiro, #5)
  • Black Lotus (Sano Ichiro, #6)
  • The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria (Sano Ichiro, #7)
  • The Dragon King's Palace (Sano Ichiro, #8)
  • The Perfumed Sleeve (Sano Ichiro, #9)
  • The Assassin's Touch (Sano Ichiro, #10)
  • Red Chrysanthemum (Sano Ichiro, #11)

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