Saturday, December 20, 2014

Blade of the Samurai - Susan Spann

   2014; 293 pages.  Book #2 (out of 2) of the Shinobi Mysteries series.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Murder-Mystery; Historical Fiction.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    The shogun’s cousin has been murdered, and the weapon used was Kazu’s personal dagger.  So Hiro learns when he is awakened in the middle of the night by the suspect, who claims innocence despite the evidence against him.

    Kazu is both a friend and a fellow shinobi (ninja), so Hiro has an obligation to render assistance.  In the short run, to provide a hiding place.  In the long run, to investigate the crime.

    But there is danger in helping.  Hiro cannot be certain Kazu didn’t commit the crime, and aiding a murderer is a capital offense in Samurai Japan.  Also, if Kazu successfully gets away, Samurai justice demands someone to be put to death in the criminal’s place.

    Like a close friend.  Like Hiro.

What’s To Like...
    The story takes place in Kyoto in June of 1565.  The Murder-Mystery takes precedence over the Historical Fiction, but both are well done, and I liked the setting of a Samurai-dominated, medieval Japan.  There is no “introductory prep” here; the action and the intrigue commence on the first page.

    This series is young – only two books so far.  I gather it centers around a sleuthing team of an undercover ninja (Hiro) and a Jesuit missionary priest (Father Mateo), which is certainly a unique pairing.  There aren’t a lot of locales in the storyline – the shogunate, Father Mateo’s house, a bar, and the connecting streets – but the setting felt real and it was enlightening to get acquainted with the totally foreign Samurai mindset.

    This is helped by Susan Spann utilizing a bunch of Japanese terms, and there is a handy glossary at the back of the book, and an equally helpful map of the shogunate at the front.

    The murder investigation develops nicely. There are a slew of suspects with a slew of motives for offing the victim.  About the only people above suspicion are Hiro and Father Mateo.  The reader is privy to Hiro’s thoughts as he works through various dead-ends and the smoke-blowing of each suspect.

    The pacing is crisp, there are no info dumps, and the cultural interplay between Hiro and Father Mateo is amusing to follow.  I haven’t read the first book in the series, Claws of the Cat, so I’m not sure why Hiro has been assigned to Father Mateo as a bodyguard.  But Blade of the Samurai functions just fine as a standalone novel.  There is a nice and unexpected twist to the ending that neither I, Hiro, nor Father Mateo saw coming.

    “I am told you drink together often,” Hisahide said.
    “Sometimes,” Hiro said.  “We reminisce about Iga.  All men miss their ancestral homes.”
    Hisahide’s face revealed nothing. “Where is Kazu this morning?”
    “If he murdered a man, he probably fled the city,” Hiro said.  “It’s what I would have done in his place.”
  “Perhaps, but your response does not answer my question.”  (pg. 36)

    ”She thinks I’m ronin, like everyone else does, but she’s seen my medicine box and she recognized some of the healing herbs.  She probably thinks since I own them I know how to use them.”
    “Do you?”
    Hiro raised an eyebrow at the priest.  “Most men in your position would worry more about the bites than about the treatment.”
    “Begging your pardon, but if you poison me the bites become less important.”  (pg. 153)

 “Hiro,” Father Mateo said, “your friend has a basket on his head.”  (pg. 17)
    Despite all the twists and turns in the investigation, I had the perpetrator pegged from almost the outset because of Rule #1 of reading Murder-Mysteries.  We’ll list this in the comments to avoid spoilers.  Also, Ozuru was also relatively easy to unmask, although I couldn’t fathom his purpose for being there. 

    I would’ve liked to “see” more of 16th-century Japan, but the storyline honestly didn’t need it, and perhaps the first book has a more varied range settings.  If not, well, this series is just getting started.

    But these are quibbles.  Blade of the Samurai is a pleasant and satisfying read, both as a Murder-Mystery and as Historical Fiction.  Susan Spann adds another fresh pen in this combination of genres.  My local library carries Claws of the Cat, albeit only one  copy and at one of the satellite branches.  I will have to see if I can get them to transfer it to my nearby branch and read it in 2015.

    8 Stars.  Add 1 star if you have taken any Japanese language classes, or have visited Japan.  I’ve done neither, and I still enjoyed this book.

1 comment:

Hamilcar Barca said...

Rule #1 of reading Murder-Mysteries : if one (or more) of the characters dislikes the protagonist, he/she/they immediately become the prime suspect(s).