I.J. Parker was born and educated in Europe and turned to mystery writing after an academic career in the U.S. She has published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, winning the short story Shamus award in 2000. The Akitada series, about an eleventh century Japanese nobleman/detective, now consists of nine titles, the last of which was just released on Nov. 29.
Readers complain frequently that a favorite series goes stale after a number of titles. There are no more surprises. Book after book: the same characters, the same setting, similar plots.
I’ve been fortunate. After eight novels, my readers haven’t voiced that complaint yet, but I make a conscious effort to avoid it. Akitada’s personal life undergoes changes, both happy and tragic, and I use plots involving criminals and victims from all walks of life and both genders. Since Akitada is a civil servant who spends a good part of his life in the capital, I take him occasionally on assignments to other interesting places. These locations suggest their own plots and introduce new characters. In this way, Akitada has traveled to the snow-country in the north to tangle with dangerous border warlords, and disguised as a convict to a prison island to investigate the death of an imperial prince. In the ninth novel, Death on an Autumn River, Akitada and his sidekick Tora visit Naniwa (the modern Osaka) to deal with pirates on the Inland Sea and delve into the fleshpots of the Yodo River brothels because of the history of the area.
By 1024, the Inland Sea already had a long tradition of piracy. It was the shipping route for tribute ships and taxes from the western provinces and from countries like Korea and China. Provincial noblemen engaged in piracy to finance insurrections against the throne.
The heavy shipping traffic between the capital and the Inland Sea was also responsible for a thriving business in prostitution, particularly in small towns among the reed fields of the Yodo river delta. Boats filled with beautiful women, singing like sirens, would meet the ships in the main river channel, hoping to seduce merchants and sailors to spend their money in local brothels. The fame of these beauties spread near and far, and as these hotspots of the sex trade were close to the capital, courtiers soon arranged boating parties to sample them.
Everything from sexual depravities to bloody action in one place!