'Extraordinary detective Daidoji Shin returns, in a wonderful locked-room murder mystery like no other, in this lively novel from the epic fantasy world of Legend of the Five Rings
'Opening night at the Foxfire Theatre is set to be a huge success for Daidoji Shin, amateur detective turned theatre impresario. The City of the Rich Frog’s leading lights are all there, but even as the performance begins, the Three Flower Troupe’s new lead actress is found dead backstage – and everyone in the venue is a potential suspect. Shin has only till the curtain falls to find the killer. But the clock is ticking and Shin can only hold the great and the good hostage so long. As the night wears on, the chance of the murderer escaping justice grows ever more likely.'
The Flower Path is both my first experience with a Legends of the Five Rings book, as well as my first time reading a Daidoji Shin mystery story, and despite this being the third book to feature the detective character, it proved to be the prefect introduction to this series.
The story begins on the opening night of the Foxfire Theatre, the latest venture by Daidoji Shin. Shin has not just sunken a lot of his money, and time into rebuilding and reopening the theatre, but has also staked his reputation on it going well. He's hired a great troop of actors, brought in a headline star, and invited all of the rich and powerful to come to see the first performance.
Whilst there are some back stage dramas going on, with his new starlet, Etsuko, clashing with the other actors and stage crew, things seem to be going well for Shin. However, soon into the first act of the play Etsuko collapses on stage. Whilst the play continues with her understudy in her role, Etsuko is taken back to the dressing room, where she dies. It seems that Etsuko has been killed with a poison slipped into her make-up, which caused a fatal allergic reaction. Knowing that the killer must still be close by, Shin locks down the theatre and is determined to find the culprit. However, he will need to do so before the play ends and people try to leave.
The Flower Path is a very fun mystery story, due in part to it taking place in one building over one night. There are no big investigations, no chasing after suspects, or catching up with witnesses after they've had time to think over what they saw. Everything that happens in The Flower Path takes place over just a few hours, and it's delightful to see Shin try to solve this mystery in such a short time. The fact that he's also keeping Etsuko's death a secret from all but a handful of people also adds a fun element to the story, as he has to try and question people as to why they'd want to kill Etsuko without giving away that she's dead.
Before this, however, Josh Reynolds spends some time setting up all of the important characters. And there are a fair few characters to keep a track of. There are multiple actors and stagehands that we get introduced to, as well as several important figures and their bodyguards and servants. All in all there are at least twenty characters that you're going to have to keep track of, and it does feel a bit overwhelming at times. However, Reynolds manages to make it fairly easy to remember who's who thanks to their distinct personalities. However, I think folks will probably be jumping to the list of characters at the back of the book now and then (something I wish I knew was there whilst reading the ebook version).
After the pieces are laid out across the board the crime is committed, and the real fun begins. As I said earlier, this is my first time reading a mystery with Daidoji Shin, but I found I really liked his investigative style. Shin has a few helpful people around him to give him a hand on his investigations. However, this isn't a Holmes and Watson type of set-up, and Shin rarely relies on others to help him solve the actual mystery for him; instead he uses them to make sure that he's given the time and space he's needed to do what he needs to do. He's a lot more relaxed than other fictional detectives too, and relies on his observation skills more than anything.
He's not a walking encyclopedia, able to piece together small clues, and instead lets his suspects provide him with the information he needs. He feeds them small pieces of the puzzle, watching for their reaction and paying attention to what they say in order to figure out the next path to take. It's a different approach to the mystery books I'm used to reading, where the investigator will be searching for clues in the crime scene and uses them to form a picture of what happened. Despite that, I did enjoy Shin's approach to things, and liked how he eventually came to figure out who committed the crime, and why.
As a first foray into Legend of the Five Rings this was a fascinating place to start. I have no knowledge of the game, or the universe that it's created, so I don't know how like this the rest of the books are; but as a mystery story fan it left me wanting to see more, and I'll definitely be reading more in the future.
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