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Death at the Crossroads Reviews


Publisher's Weekly - The Anthony and Macavity Award-winning author of Death in Little Tokyo (1996) and The Toyotomi Blades (1997) moves back in time with his third mystery, a quietly reflective historical puzzler set in early-17th-century Japan. Matsuyama Kaze is a ronin--an unaffiliated, wandering samurai--whose personal history is gradually revealed as he investigates the murder of an unidentified man whose corpse is left near a remote mountain village.  Interrupting his mission to find the missing daughter of his Lord and Lady, whose deaths came in the revolt that led to the oppressive centuries-long rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Matsuyama gradually weaves himself into the fabric of daily life in the region.  He exercises his samurai skills in martial arts, in cultivated patience and in cunning intelligence through which he understands the obvious and hidden links among the local peasants, the petty village officials, its Lord and the band of local outlaws whose power has recently increased.  Furutani surely and gradually creates an atmospheric setting in this increasingly compelling story, casting in the hero's role a figure who manages to embody with utter credibility both compassion and ruthlessness.  This is the first tale in a projected trilogy, and readers will look forward to the second installment.


Los Angeles Times - Dale Furutani's first two crime novels, "Death in Little Tokyo" and "The Toyotomi Blades," were entertaining contemporary tales about Ken Tanaka, a hapless amateur private eye who stumbles into murder. Furutani's new one, "Death at the Crossroads: A Samurai Mystery" (Morrow, 210 pages, $22), is a more ambitious work, a tale set in 1603 Japan- a turning point in Japanese history, according to the author, when the new shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, began a period of oppression that lasted 250 years.


"Crossroads" protagonist is Matsuyama Kaze, a ronin (a samurai without a master) on a (three-book) quest to find his lord's daughter, abducted during the siege of their castle. Here, his search is sidetracked by a corpse he discovers at the crossroads in the title. The search for the killer is properly intriguing, and, when you add the fascinating background, distinctive characters, unusual culture and unique hero, you have a sure cure for readers sick to death of standard mystery fare.


The Chicago Tribune and Amazon.com - The face of that remarkable actor Toshiro Mifune might insist on looming up before your eyes as you read this engrossing new historical mystery about a rogue samurai warrior named Matsuyama Kaze ("Pine Mountain Wind" ) roaming through rural Japan in 1603 -- the year that began the long, oppressive reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate. In the first book of a planned trilogy, Dale Furutani first introduces us to Kaze in a scene straight from the Gregory Peck movie "The Gunfighter," as the wily, middle-aged samurai outwits a young challenger. Then, on the road to the country village of Suzaka, Kaze and a local charcoal seller find the body of a stranger, pierced by an arrow. The local lords are quick to pin the crime on a bandit chief, Boss Kuemon, but Kaze's investigation points to a less obvious killer. Telling his subtle, strong story, Furutani conjures up compelling images: "As he walked along the path, Kaze looked at the splashes of blue sky peeking through the woven branches of the trees. It was a constantly changing mosaic that recalled the intricately painted patterns on the expensive Satsuma porcelains he knew from his youth."



Jade Palace Vendetta Reviews


Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) - The second installment in Furutani's samurai trilogy has a startlingly modern sensibility. As ronin Matsuyama Kaze follows the Tokaido Road in search of his beloved Lady's kidnapped nine-year-old daughter, he saves the merchant Hishigawa from a gang of bandits. The coarse but enigmatic merchant insists on repaying Kaze with a new sword and invites him to his home in Kamakura, where the merchant lives with Yuchan, his cherished young wife. But something is rotten in Hishigawa's sumptuous villa, and as Kaze acquaints himself with members of the staff, including the chief bodyguard Enomoto, and the suspiciously powerful female "head of household," Ando, he gradually discovers the depths of the merchant's depravity. Furutani names film director Kurosawa as "an inspiration" for this novel, and it shows. Every gesture- from Kaze's "gently cupping" his Lady's face as she dies, to the parrying of swords- is rendered with the unhurried care of a master craftsman. Even the novel's one truly surprising scene, where Kaze learns the secret of Unchain's life in the Jade Palace, has a kind of visual poetry, horror and beauty nightmarishly juxtaposed. Like Kaze's miraculous new sword "the Fly Cutter," Furutani's pen is "light and lively," but capable of gross violence when necessary. Yet what makes this novel so poignant is that Kaze's Jedi-like purity and self-restraint seem outmoded even in 1603 Japan- a time in which violence, sex and commerce proliferate, and 50,000 ronin samurai roam the countryside.


The Washington Post - Dale Furutani takes us back to feudal 17th-century Japan in Jade Palace Vendetta, the second in his trilogy of works about Matsuyama Kaze, a samurai warrior turned ronin (masterless) after his master and mistress are killed. Kaze roams the countryside trying to fulfill his promise to his lady to find her kidnapped daughter, while he himself is sought by troops loyal to the new shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa. Moving along the Tokaido Road in his quest, Kaze aids a threatened merchant, Hishigawa, by killing the thieves who are anxious to rob him. Asked to give the merchant help and protection, Kaze tacitly agrees, until he eventually becomes Hishigawa's guest and bodyguard in his home in Kamakura. There Kaze learns more than he wants to about the unscrupulous trader, who speaks passionately of his wife, Yuchan, and her beauty while guarding -- or imprisoning -- her in a jade palace along with other young women. Meantime, Kaze discovers that there is a legal vendetta out for Hishigawa, and joins forces with Unchain's family while serving the merchant.


Furutani writes with a spare detachment that gives us a sharp portrait of the Japanese landscape and an even more detailed understanding of the reigning codes of conduct and class and the ideals of the 1600’s. There is some awkwardness in the memory portions of the story, in which Kaze recalls both the last days with his lady and lord and his earlier training in the samurai code. But Kaze's single-minded sense of purpose, along with his efforts to reconcile events with the ethics of his training, makes for a wonderful study of morality and history. Add carefully drawn action scenes of swordplay and night-crawling ninjas, and you have a story worth attention.


As the middle of a trilogy (begun in Death at the Crossroads), this book both stands alone and makes me eager to see its sequel.


Library Journal - In 1603 Japan, with the Tokugawa clan newly established as rulers, Matsuyama Kaze, now a masterless samurai, roves the land searching for the lost nine-year-old daughter of his former lady. Along the way, he rescues a rich merchant besieged by bandits, purchases a new sword with his reward, then learns that the merchant has been targeted for revenge by an ancient harridan of a grandmother.  Someone else has targeted Kaze himself for destruction, but he handles this and all danger with practiced aplomb.  Elements of samurai training, religion, class structure, and culture make this essential reading for historical mystery fans.



Chicago Tribune and Amazon.com - As he did so well in Death at the Crossroads, his first book about a ronin--a rogue samurai warrior--on a quest across the feudal Japan of 1603, Dale Furutani combines cinematic action, deep research and images of startling beauty into a moving and satisfying historical mystery. His hero, Matsuyama Kaze, once again calls out for an actor of the strength and grace of the late Toshiro Mifune to bring this complex character to screen life. Kaze is a shrewd and practical man who can figure out many ways to fool bandits, but he's also a man who sees and talks to ghosts--in particular, the spirit of the noble woman he used to work for and whose missing nine-year-old daughter he has sworn to find. "There standing in the middle of the bridge, he could see the woman," Furutani writes. "She was dressed in a kimono of white, the color of death and mourning. Her long black hair hung loosely against the kimono, looking like the stroke of a calligraphy brush against snowlike paper... Looking within his soul, Kaze recited a piece of the 'Heart Sutra.' I have no doubt and therefore no fear. No doubt and therefore no fear. No doubt and no fear..." Kaze has helped a wealthy merchant keep his gold from marauding bandits on the road from Edo to Kamakura, but in the process has become involved in a vendetta by the family of the beautiful young woman whom the merchant has forced to become his wife, imprisoning her in a luxurious Jade Palace on his estate. The bride's family has a clue to his own missing girl, so Kaze is willing to combine their objectives--especially when he realizes how evil the merchant and his associates really are. There is plenty of swordplay and lots of fascinating period detail--such as the fact that a samurai had the right to commit "practice murder" or "sword-testing killing." "He could cut down a heimin, a commoner, for the simple pleasure of trying his blade on a living body. But in practice, a samurai who indulged this right too often soon got a bad reputation. Killing too many peasants could hurt rice production."


Booklist - The second in Furutani's Samurai trilogy finds Matsuyama Kaze the ronin ("masterless samurai") still roaming the dangerous countryside of feudal Japan, searching for the missing daughter of his slain lord. After coming to the aid of a merchant who was attacked by bandits, Kaze decides to continue traveling with the man to his home. Once there, he finds it difficult to discern who he can trust and what is really going on with the merchant's beautiful wife, Yuchan, who resides in the mysterious Jade Palace. Furutani's flowing, graceful prose enhances a highly entertaining story full of heart stopping sword fights and thought-provoking Zen riddles. His intimate knowledge of his subject matter will transport readers back in time.


Kill the Shogun Reviews


Publishers Weekly - Anthony and Macavity award winner Furutani manages a fluid mix of cultural history and swashbuckling adventure--the swordplay conjures memories of Sabatini--in this concluding volume of the Samurai Mystery Trilogy (Death at the Crossroads; Jade Palace Vendetta), set in early 17th-century Japan.  Samurai Matsuyama Kaze's solitary quest to find the young daughter of his slain Lord and Lady, who figure in the previous two books, brings him to Edo (Old Tokyo), the bustling new capital of Japan, where fortune has made Tokugawa Ieyasu the new Shogun (ruler).


Tokugawa is rebuilding and expanding Edo, recently ravaged by fire, at a feverish pace.  Kaze's search for the young girl, who's been sold into slavery as a child prostitute, is difficult enough in the large city, but when he's mistakenly identified as the unsuccessful assassin who fired a shot at the Shogun, it becomes dangerous too.  Single-mindedly pursing his goal, Kaze adopts various disguises and eventually locates the brothel where the girl is likely kept. He then has to plot to extricate her while at the same time figuring out how to prove himself innocent of attempted assassination.  


A memorable cast of warriors, gamblers, merchants and craftsmen adds dimension to the proceedings. Kaze's subtle humor, supreme sword skills and calm spirituality are appealing, as Furutani succeeds in making this final volume stand alone as a complete and entertaining period mystery.


Booklist - The concluding volume to Furutani's samurai series set in seventeenth-century Japan finds wandering samurai Matsuyama Kaze continuing his search for the young daughter of his slain lord. Kaze has determined that she is being held prisoner in a whorehouse called "Little Flower" in the town of Edo. Before he can rescue the child, however, an assassination attempt is made on the Shogun Ieyasu, and Kaze is publicly blamed for the crime. Normally cautious, he now must take extraordinary actions to avoid capture; a huge reward has been placed on his head, and the townspeople of Edo are eager to claim it. As usual, Furutani proves adept at combining historical fact with compelling fiction. His prose is flowing and lovely, even when describing rather gruesome fight scenes, and the haiku at the beginning of each chapter is an added bonus. If Furutani doesn't devise a way to extend this excellent series beyond what appears to be its finale, let's hope he continues to make use of the samurai setting in future novels.