Monday, June 8, 2009

Book Review: The Sword that Cut Burning Grass by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

Review of The Sword that Cut Burning Grass by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

Cover Image

During the period of Yoshimune, the 8th shogun of the Tokugawa family, Judge Ooka was well respected for his wise and honest decisions and regarded as the Sherlock Holmes of Japan.   

Seikei was born to a merchant family, but had won the Judge's respect when he voluntarily assisted him solve a case and prevent serious injustice.  Judge Ooka adopted Seikei and is fulfilling Seikei's dream to become a samurai. 
Now fourteen year old samurai apprentice Seikei is called upon to assist his adoptive father, Judge Ooaki, serve the Shogun.  The emperor of Japan is a young boy and has refused to perform his duties.  The Shogun sends Seikei to Kyoto convince the emperor to leave the temple and to resume his duties.    The Shogun explains that the emperor must make a public appearance at the time of the spring solstice, plow a furrow of land and sow rice seeds to maintain the peace.  If the emperor fails to perform this duty, the farmers will fear for the harvest and will be unable to deliver the proper quotas to their daimyo lords, and this will result in widespread unrest.  Seikei must convince the emperor to resume his duties.
Seikei meets with the emperor, but soon after he leaves the temple, sudden violence erupts.  The emperor is suddenly missing and Seikei is arrested.

To save himself and to serve his country, young Seikei must track down the emperor's whereabouts and prevent a daimyo's grab for control with the help a mysterious samurai and a young serving girl.   Meanwhile, Judge Ooaki is unaware of the dangers that track his young charge.

I enjoy  historical fiction and detective novels.  Japan during the 1700s,  the time of the powerful Shoguns, holds particular fascination for me.   Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler's series are made even more enjoyable by their choice of lead characters.  Judge Ooka is a historical figure with a reputation for wise and honest decisions and has been described as the Sherlock Holmes of Japan. He served the 8th shogun of the Tokugawa family.   In his official capacity, Judge Ooka is assigned to solve crimes and to help the Shogun maintain the peace.   Judge Ooka is assisted by his adoptive son, the young Seikei.

The point of view of Judge Ooka's adoptive son, Seikei works particularly well.  Born as a merchant's son, Seikei  wants to become worthy of his new samurai status.  Seikei has a strong sense of honor and considerable courage but is still developing his samurai skills.  When asked which do he values more, life or honor? "Honor," replies Seikei dutifully, "because everyone must die, but honor lasts forever."  

Since a fourteen year old boy can blend in and observe a great deal, Seikei undertakes critical missions much more than an easily recognized official of the Shogun.  Stout of heart and determined,  Seikei serves his father, the Shogun and the Emperor well.   This particular installment is one of the more captivating of the series because of the friendships and adventures that Seikei makes along the way.

Format and cover: Catchy and accurately reflects the text within.
Publication date:  (208 pages)
Publisher: Sleuth Philomel
Courtesy of the New York Public Library.


  1. sounds like the same period in Japanese history that historical mystery writer Laura Joh Rowland writes about. I reviewed her The Fire Kimono on my blog. She has written quite a few others featuring a shogun's detective/investigator. I recommend her books! Interesting to see other authors are following suit!

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  3. Thank you - I like Laura Joh Rowland's series. I'd love to check out your review.

    Another good series is I.J. Parker's Sujata Akitada's Ancient Japan mysteries.

    I also very much enjoyed Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori. It's worth checking out.