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Literature / Sugawara Akitada

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Sugawara Akitada lives in Heian Japan. Like his father and ancestors, Akitada went through the education necessary to become a scholar-official. Unfortunately, his father died before Akitada completed his education, leaving Akitada as his family's sole breadwinner. In addition to a hostile mother, Akitada has to provide for two younger sisters and a small staff of family retainers.

To make ends meet, Akitada works as a junior clerk in the Ministry of Law. In addition to his government work, Akitada's inquisitive and clever mind makes him seek out mysteries to solve and criminals to bring to justice. While his stubbornness gets him in trouble with his superiors more often than not, his steadfast resolve earns him several allies, chief among them being his elderly manservant Seimei and his bodyguard Tora. From disappearing tax convoys to blackmail at the Imperial University to a past murder coming back to haunt the present, Akitada's civil service job is anything but boring.

The Sugawara Akitada series is a series of historical mystery novels by Ingrid "I.J." Parker. While Parker began writing the novels first, it was the short stories that kicked off the series.

    This series includes the following titles: 


Arranged in chronological order:
  • The Dragon Scroll (2005)
  • Rashomon Gate (2002)
  • Black Arrow (2006)
  • Island of Exiles (2007)
  • The Hell Screen (2003)
  • The Convict's Sword (2009)
  • The Masuda Affair (2010)
  • The Fires of the Gods (2011)
  • Death on an Autumn River (2011)
  • The Emperor's Woman (2013)
  • Death of a Doll Maker (2013)
  • The Crane Pavilion (2014)
  • The Old Men of Omi (2014)
  • The Shrine Virgin (2015)
  • The Assassin's Daughter (2015)
  • The Island of the Gods (2015)
  • Ikiryo: Vengeance and Justice (2017)
  • The Kindness of Dragons (2018)
  • The Nuns of Nara (2019)
  • Massacre at Shirakawa (2020)
  • The Lucky Gods of Otsu (2021)
  • The Temple of the Dead (2022)

Short stories

These short stories were first serialized in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.
  • "Instruments of Murder" (1997)
  • "The Curio Dealer's Wife" (1997)
  • "A Master of Go" (1998)
  • "Akitada's First Case" (1999)
  • "Rain at Rashomon" (2000)
  • "The New Year's Gift" (2001)
  • "Welcoming the Paddy God" (2001)
  • "Death and Cherry Blossoms" (2002)
  • "The O-Bon Cat" (2003)
  • "The Kamo Horse" (2003)
  • "The Tanabata Magpie" (2005)
  • "Moon Cakes" (2007)
  • "The Incense Murders" (2009)
  • "The Water Sprite" (2011)
  • "Fox Magic" (2011)
  • "Confessions" (2012)

This series provides examples of:

  • Always Murder: Some of the Sugawara novels have premises where the crime Akitada needs to solve is bad, but still minor, such as disappearing taxes or blackmail. These minor crimes will always lead to a reveal someone had been murdered, someone being murdered during the course of the novel, or both.
  • Anachronic Order: The first five novels were published out of chronological order. This changed after Parker switched to a different publisher.
  • Lousy Lovers Are Losers: It's heavily implied that Count Tanibata can't pleasure his decades younger wife, being too busy acting like overprotective father than a husband.
  • Mal Mariée: Count Tanibata's wife is much younger than him (he's in his sixties, she isn't even twenty) and it's heavily implied that he's only capable of acting like an overprotective fatherly figure. This eventually leads to his demise at the hands of his wife or his wife's lover.
  • Meaningful Name: Tora is Japanes for "tiger". This is one of the reasons he was confused with a bandit called Mountain Tiger.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Professor Hirata, Akitada's law teacher and father figure, dies in the same book he's introduced in.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Akitada's superiors don't make his job any easier, often getting in his way or taking actions behind the scenes that disrupt Akitada's efforts.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Akitada doesn't use his government position to cause harm, manipulate others to do his bidding, or other abuse his authority.
  • Sinister Minister: Akitada's Confucianist background leads him to regard Buddhism with suspicion. Corrupt monks and abbots are sprinkled throughout the series, along with some honest Buddhists.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: After multiple failed attempts to indirectly bribe Akitada by over hospitality, Governor Motosuke just sends Akitada ten gold bullions outright. A furious Akitada sends them back, now completely convinced that Motosuke is in fact guilty of stealing the caravans. Motosuke is genuinely a good guy and a Reasonable Authority Figure who just happens to be an overly gracious host, and the gold was for travel expenses, something Akitada didn't even think about.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Akitada's strong sense of justice, stubbornness, and inquisitive mind are a major problem to his career. Heian society prided conformity and unswerving obedience over all else, so Akitada's individualism proves to be a hindrance to himself more than asset. Still, he can't just sit by and do nothing when there are murderers to bring to justice.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Even though he's a lowly clerk, being on a mission for the Emperor is empowering enough that Akitada is able to hire a wanted criminal as a servant and walk around with him in the very region he was wanted. Akitada also has influential friends among the government willing to help him, too.