The novels deal with the experiences of Sano Ichiro, a samurai and minor official who by the end of the first novel, became the trusted chief investigator for the fifth Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, and by the tenth novel, promoted to a very high office.
Throughout the stories, Sano constantly had to deal with his problems following the code of bushido while serving both justice and his master, the Shogun; and with his wife, , who frequently involves herself in Sano's investigations. Throughout the books, Sano experiences great pressure as he is faced with death if he doesn't fulfill his obligations to the shogun as well.
There are currently fourteen volumes in this series, starting with the highly acclaimed Shinju. The last published is The Cloud Pavilion.
Rowland takes some licence with known figures, creating fictionalised versions of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi and Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu. Objective historical details, however, are credibly accurate.
List of novels
Shinju (ISBN 978-0-06-100950-1, 1994, Random House)
Bundori (ISBN 0-7472-1717-3, 1996, HarperTorch)
The Way of the Traitor (ISBN 0-06-101090-1,1997, Headline Feature)
The Concubine's Tattoo (ISBN 0-312-19252-5, December 1998, St. Martin's Press)
The Samurai's Wife (ISBN 0-312-20325-X, May 2000, St. Martin's Press)
Black Lotus (ISBN 0-312-26872-6, Aril 2001, St. Martin's Press)
The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria (ISBN0-312-28262-1, April 2002, St. Martin's Press)
The Dragon King's Palace (ISBN 0-312-28266-4, April 2003, St. Martin's Press)
The Perfumed Sleeve (ISBN 0-312-31889-8, April 2004, St. Martin's Minotaur)
The Assassin's Touch (ISBN 0-312-31900-2, August 2005, St. Martin's Press)
The Red Chrysanthemum (ISBN 0-312-35532-7, November 2006, St. Martin's Press)
The Snow Empress (ISBN 0-312-36542-X, October 30, 2007, St. Martin's Minotaur)
The Fire Kimono (ISBN 0-312-37948-X, November 11, 2008, St. Martin's Minotaur)
The Cloud Pavilion (ISBN 0-312-37949-8, October 27, 2009, Minotaur Books)
It is not known if it is coincidental or intentional on the part of the author that the protagonist's name Sano Ichiro could be interpreted as a homage to one of Japan's most famous deductive fiction writers, , born in 1928, who uses the pen-name of Sano Yo (???.)
The title of the first novel is the Romanised form of the term written in kanji as ??, pronounced as Shinj?, which refers to a suicide pact by a pair of lovers.
The title of the second novel is the Romanised form of the term written in katakana as ???? (bu-n-do-ri), which means "Seizing the soil of the vanquished.", or simply spoils of war or war trophy ( BUNDORI).