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From the Publisher -A wise and witty thriller of ancient Japan by the award-winning I.J. Parker

 (# 2 in the Akitada series)

Government official turned sleuth Akitada Sugawara, on his way home to attend the sickbed of his bitter, aging mother, is spending the night at a monastery when he finds himself drawn to a brilliantly illustrated screen depicting the horrors of hell.

His brief stay is complicated by the murder of a beautiful young woman.  Personal and professional interests begin to merge as Akitada becomes ensnared in a tangled web of deceit and malevolence that will, in the end, strike very close to home.  Rich, textured, and historically researched, this complex mystery is the second in an acclaimed series featuring Akitada Sugawara.

NEW! Murder and Mayhem - a collection of four historical murder mysteries including Hell Screen.

The Hell Screen hardcover 2003 (St. Martin's Press)
The Hell Screen trade paper 2008 (Penguin)
Also available as an e-book and audio book.

Boston Globe Review
By Jim Fusilli, 10/26/2003

''The Hell Screen: A Mystery of Ancient Japan''
By I.J. Parker
St. Martin's, 352 pp., $24.95

Eleventh-century Japan serves as the setting for I. J. Parker's elegant and entertaining novel, ''The Hell Screen,'' which, like its predecessor ''Rashomon Gate,'' features Akitada Sugawara, a government official and occasional amateur detective. This time, on his way to his ancestral home after serving in a cold, northern province, Akitada, stumbles across a brutal murder in a monastery where he's spent a rainy night. The victim is thought to be the wife of Nagaoka, a local antique merchant whose brother is accused of the crime. That Nagaoka is more concerned with his brother than his late spouse arouses Akitada's sleuthing instincts.

Meanwhile, a different brand of disquiet awaits Akitada at home: His pitiless mother, though on her deathbed, continues to treat him bitterly, wounding the thoughtful man. Further, his youngest sister, the dutiful Yoshiko, has resigned herself to a spinster's fate, in contrast to the life enjoyed by their petulant sister Akiko, married to an affable nobleman. And Akitada must assume the duties of his late, seemingly callous father, whose memory brings him even more anguish. Perhaps happiness will accompany his wife, Tamako, and their son, Yori, when they arrive at his side.

Parker has created a wonderful protagonist in Akitada, who, bound by tradition, finds himself in conflict with his benevolent nature. Her ancillary characters, such as the stout acrobat Miss Plumblossom, Akitada's quarreling aides Tora and Genba, and the painter Noami, who brings visions of hell to earth with his horrific creations, are as vividly drawn. And with her steady, mature narrative, she puts us at ease in a Japan of 1,000 years ago by showing us the similarities between then and now: the territorial policeman, the haughty forensic specialist; the latest balms and potions, the soothing aftereffects of a sip of wine; the timelessness of familial strife, greed and lust, danger and murder. And how a good man can be dissuaded from doing what he knows in his heart is right.

Jim Fusilli is a novelist and critic.

Publishers Weekly Starred Review (July 21,2003)
I.J. Parker. St. Martin's Minotaur, $ 24.95 (352p)

Fascinating historical detail and well-drawn characters distinguish Shamus-winner Parker's second Japanese mystery (after 2002's well-received Rashomon Gate). On his way back to the capital city of Heian Kyo (now Kyoto), Lord Sugawara Akitada, a government official with a knack for stumbling into crime, stops at a monastery to shake off the cold and get a few hours sleep. Other guests of the Buddhist monks include a well-dressed woman and her companion, a troupe of actors and a renowned artist.

After Akitada views the artist's work-in-progress, aptly called the "Hell Screen," his sleep is filled with nightmarish images and a bloodcurdling scream. Not sure whether he was dreaming, Akitada wanders around the monastery but finds nothing amiss. After an early morning departure, Akitada arrives at his ancestral home to visit his dying mother and soon learns of a heinous murder. Realizing the crime took place at the monastery where he slept, Akitada can't resist investigating. Many complications and subplots ensue, all rendered in expertly evocative prose.

Parker's remarkable command of 11th-century Japanese history -- from the rituals of the royal court to the minutiae of daily life within Japan's often rigid caste system -- makes for an excellent whodunit. Readers will be enchanted by Akitada, an honorable sleuth who proves more progressive than his time.

Parker, I.J.  - THE HELL SCREEN - Book Review by Kirkus

The Hell Screen, by I. J. Parker Eleventh-century Japanese sleuth Akitada (Rashomon Gate, 2002) faces family turmoil and multiple mysteries in a richly appointed historical yarn. A brutal prologue depicts a quartet of anonymous characters. A woman orders a man to cut the throat of another woman, apparently sleeping deeply, then to mutilate her face with the same sword and place it in the hands of another loudly snoring man.

This opening crime stays on a back burner while Parker follows the odyssey of government clerk/nobleman/amateur detective Sugawara Akitada, who's summoned from his work in the northern provinces to the capital, where his mother lies gravely ill. As he suffers the characteristic abuse of the dying Lady Sugawara, Akitada copes with other family crises. Toshikage, the husband of Akiko, his elder sister, stands accused of pilfering government treasures. Akitada's other sister, Yoshiko, loves Kojiro, a landowner whose social status makes him an unacceptable husband. But those are the least of his problems.

At length, Kojiro is implicated in the novel's opening murder, which Akitada realizes he was an earwitness to. As in Akitada's previous adventure, obtuse police inspector Kobe bristles at Akitada's meticulous sleuthing. An amusing subplot keeps Akitada's retainer Tora running afoul of jumbo lady sumo wrestler Miss Plumblossom. Plot and mysteries aplenty. Though his prose could still use less starch, Parker effectively captures this colorful ancient culture. --Kirkus Reviews 6/15/03

From Booklist

Parker has crafted another exotic and compelling mystery set in eleventh-century Japan and featuring government official and sometime detective Akitada Sugawara. Journeying home to attend to his dying mother, Akitada seeks shelter at a monastic temple during a storm. Exhausted and disoriented, he is inextricably drawn to an artistically rendered, yet horrifically realistic, hell screen depicting a variety of gruesome death scenes. When a young woman is murdered during the night, Akitada becomes embroiled in a complex investigation that involves members of his own family. Exposing the brazen theft of an identity, the wily Akitada is able to untangle the strands of a cleverly plotted series of murders. This intiguing combination of history and suspense is distinguished by a wealth of authentic cultural detail.

From Library Journal

Sugawara Akitada (Rashomon Gate) returns to Heian Kyo, the capital city of 11th century Japan, because his mother is desperately ill. On his way, he stops at a monastery, where he views a brilliantly painted screen depicting the torments of hell and later hears a woman's scream in the night. He discovers that the scream came from a dead woman supposedly murdered by her alleged lover. Akitada gravitates to the case immediately, all the while investigating for his new brother-in-law the mysterious disappearance of treasures from the imperial collection. A wealth of colorful detail -- artistic, social, historical, and personal -- breathes life into an excellent historical. This will appeal to readers who enjoy the samurai mysteries of Dale Furatani [sic].

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NEW! Murder and Mayhem - a collection of four historical murder mysteries including Hell Screen:


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