At the start of Rowland s assured 10th historical set in 17th-century Japan (after 2004 s The Perfumed Sleeve), Sano Ichiro, now the shogun s chamberlain and second-in-command, returns to his previous role of criminal investigator after the country s top spy, Ejima Senzaemon, drops dead on his mount during a horse race. Sano quickly finds that Senzaemon was just the latest senior official to die without warning. With the assistance of Hirata, his longtime assistant, the chamberlain uses his highly irregular sources to get on the trail of a martial-arts master using the legendary dim-mak, or touch of death. As always, the potential political ramifications of the crimes, which threaten the regime s precarious hold on power, add urgency to the inquiries, and failure risks not only Sano s status but his family s lives as well. While the significance of the subplot featuring Sano s wife, Reiko, may strike some as coincidental, the compelling story line, evocative detail and suspense should engage newcomers and satisfy longtime fans alike. At a point when many series show signs of wear, Rowland s characters remain fresh.