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Sugawara Akitada serves as a minor official in the Ministry of Justice. Though born into a noble family, his family's estate is sadly diminished, forcing Akitada to toil fruitlessly at an unsuccessful career. So when an old friend, Professor Hirata, calls upon Akitada for help, he welcomes the opportunity to escape from his dull assignments.

One of the professor's colleagues is being blackmailed, and to save the Imperial University from scandal, Hirata asks his former pupil to investigate the situation. After taking a leave of absence from the Ministry, Akitada joins the staff of the university as a visiting lecturer, and finds himself drawn into a web of gossip and petty rivalries.

Nearly everyone he encounters is suspect, but Akitada's attentions are soon sidetracked by the murder of a young woman, and the mysterious disappearance of a student's grandfather. The emperor himself has declared the case a miracle, but Lord Minamoto refuses to believe the pious tale of his grandfather's transfiguration. Though there is no evidence of foul play, it is clear to Akitada that Minamoto's life has also become endangered as he plunges into a dangerous investigation of conspiracy among high-ranking nobles. 

Rashomon Gate hardcover 2002 (St. Martin's Press)
Rashomon Gate trade paperback 2005 (Penguin)
Also available as e-book and audio book.

 

RASHOMON GATE: A mystery of Ancient Japan
Review from Publisher's Weekly Magazine

Of noble family but of minor importance, 11th-century Japanese sleuth Sugawara Akitada serves as a clerk in the Ministry of Justice in this solid debut, which follows the success of Parker's Shamus-winning short story, "Akitada's First Case." A request from Hirata, a law professor and his old mentor at the Imperial University in Heian Kyo (modern-day Kyoto), results in Akitada becoming a temporary teacher there.

Ostensibly, Hirata is concerned with what appears to be a blackmailer at the already struggling university -- such a scandal might well be a deathblow. But Hirata also has in mind a possible match between his daughter, Tamako, and Akitada, who in addition becomes involved in the disappearance of a student's grandfather. Lord Minamoto, a young student consigned to the school, believes his grandfather was murdered, but the emperor has ruled the disappearance a miracle, so Akitada must move carefully.

Parker has neatly blended familiar and esoteric Japanese history, religion, culture and superstition with a well-paced plot to create an appealing historical mystery. Amusingly, the Imperial University seems not too different from today's institutions, with uncertain government support, jealousies and bickering among the faculty, as well as impecunious students striving to make ends meet. Akitada, impetuous, passionate and intelligent, is aided by a scampish servant, Tora, and an elderly, resourceful retainer, Seimei. Readers should welcome further tales about the trio.


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