This is book 3 of the Sugawara Akitada mystery series. Set in Eleventh-Century Japan, in the first two books, Sugawara caught the attention of the Emperor by solving difficult murder cases. In this book, he has been sent as governor to the northern border province of Echigo–Niigata today–to establish more control for the Emperor.
Within days Sugawara recognizes several threats to both himself and the Emperor. The warlord of the province and the wealthy rice merchant show their disdain for the new governor. The local judge and the sergeant of the governor’s guard mostly ignore him.
Five murders occur within days and the population threatens open revolt when Sugawara does not quickly solve the crimes. Now he understands why several of his predecessors quit, disappeared, or ran away.
Parker has researched the history of the period but admits that little is known of the living conditions outside the capital–Heian-Kyo at the time; Kyoto today. She described life as it existed in Heian-Kyo while trying to imagine how it would be different in such a far-flung region. If you have been to Niigata you will know that snow comes early and stays late. The Siberian storms cross Northern Korea and hit Niigata, held by the mountains.
I have enjoyed this series. Parker has created a complex puzzle for Sugawara in this issue, one which has Sugawara believing he and his wife will be murdered; but true to his personal code, he carries on.