Given the reputation of Kirkus for savage reviews, I'm pleasantly surprised. Still, a star would have been nice.

The Masuda Affair, Author: Parker, I.J., Severn House, Pages: 320, $28.95, Isbn 978-0-7278-6925-8

A strange little boy leads a veteran detective on a remarkable odyssey.

In 11th-century Japan, sometime sleuth Sugawara Akitada, senior secretary in the Ministry of Justice, is headed back to the capital after completing a mission in rural Hikone. In a dark forest, he finds a whimpering young boy, mute or deaf or both. Having recently lost his young son Yori in the smallpox epidemic, Akitada has tried with little success to work through his grief. Lifting the boy onto his horse, Akitada takes him to the nearest town, where a gruff couple, the Mimuras, claim him. Uncertain of their legitimacy but equally uncertain of his own judgment in light of recent events, Akitada relents but later decides to return. When his suspicions of abuse are confirmed, he seizes the boy. Far from ending troubles for the two of them, his action simply fosters more, and he ultimately surrenders the boy again. Akitada's retainers—elderly Seimei, sedentary Genba and hearty Tora—worry about his well-being; Tora somewhat less, as he's involved in a torrid romance with Hanae, a flirtatious dancer and singer. Her sudden disappearance is the first of a series of baffling mysteries—including one that involves the silent little boy—that Akitada is challenged to unravel, drawing him progressively out of his grief while paradoxically threatening his relationship with wife Tamako.

Akitada's stately seventh case (The Convict's Sword, 2009, etc.) builds slowly, but the character development and plot foundations in the first half pay dividends in the closing chapters, especially for series fans.

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Comment by I. J. Parker on September 12, 2010 at 6:44am
I know what you mean, Pepper. I have one regular reviewer who once sent me an e-mail telling me how much he loved the book, but when the review came out, there wasn't a single phrase that was quotable.
Comment by Pepper Smith on September 12, 2010 at 6:40am
A nice review, even without a star.

I just got one for my upcoming book that I'm not sure there's anything I can use in it. The reviewer gave it three stars (their rating system goes up to 4 1/2), but all she did in her remarks about the book was complain about what she didn't like. She definitely left me with the impression this wasn't her type of book.

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