The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn
by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler
Seikei dreams of being a samurai, but as the son of a tea merchant that world is forever out of his reach. One night, he and his father stay at the same inn as Lord Hakuseki, a daimyo on his way to present a large ruby to the shogun. Unfortunately for the lord, his ruby is stolen in the darkness. The only witness is Seikei, but what he saw was impossible: a ghost that sank into the ground and disappeared. The honorable Judge Ooka is summoned to solve the crime and apprehend the thief. The judge befriends Seikei and allows the teenager to accompany him on his investigation. As they unravel the mystery of the ghost and the ruby, Seikei gets to experience the life of a samurai first-hand, join an acting troupe and meet the shogun himself.
Judge Ooka is based on the real-life Ooka Tadasuke, a magistrate from the 18th century renowned for his incorruptibility. Here, he’s shown as a wise, kind man who administers justice quickly and fairly. He becomes a father figure to Seikei and protector of the lower classes, sympathizing even with merchants and actors.
Since the book targets children, we have a young protagonist to accompany the judge. Seikei is an intelligent kid who, with a little prodding from Ooka, is able to solve the mystery of the ruby. The mystery is more about how and why the ruby was stolen; the who is revealed in the first third of the book. But it’s the motivation and process that make the story interesting. Seikei is forced to mature as he realizes that not all samurai are noble and good, and ideal justice rarely happens in the world. His youth and social status enables him to move about in places Ooka cannot go, so through his eyes readers learn a lot about feudal Japan. It’s a sneakily educational read.
The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn is the first book in the Samurai Mystery series, based on the adventures of Judge Ooka and Seikei. I believe there are currently seven titles in the series.
4 out of 5 stars