Saturday, July 5, 2014

Blade of the Samurai (Book Review)

Title: Blade of the Samurai
Author: Susan Spann
Publication Information: Minotaur Books, Hardcover, 2014
Genre: Mystery
Plot:  June, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori receives a pre-dawn visit from Kazu, a fellow shinobi working undercover at the shogunate. Hours before, the Shogun’s cousin, Saburo, was stabbed to death in the Shogun’s palace.  The murder weapon: Kazu’s personal dagger. Kazu says he’s innocent, and begs for Hiro’s help, but his story gives Hiro reason to doubt the young shinobi’s claims.

When the Shogun summons Hiro and Father Mateo, the Jesuit priest under Hiro’s protection, to find the killer, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between friendship and personal honor.

The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the Shogun and overthrow the ruling Ashikaga clan. With Lord Oda’s enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro must use his assassin’s skills to reveal the killer’s identity and protect the Shogun at any cost. Kazu, now trapped in the city, still refuses to explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder. But a suspicious shogunate maid, Saburo’s wife, and the Shogun’s stable master also had reasons to want Saburo dead. With the Shogun demanding the murderer’s head before Lord Oda reaches the city, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time … or die in his place.

Audience:  Fans of mysteries, historical fiction, those interested in Japan or Jesuits

What I liked: This is a fun and completely different mystery.  It was also very well written.  For someone like me who has been fascinated by the 16th century since childhood, it was intriguing to read a mystery set in an unfamiliar culture, rather than the England, France and Italy so familiar to a Ren/Ref major.  Hiro is the Jesuit’s bodyguard and they form an amusing detective duo.  Hiro is sometimes a little condescending of Father Mateo’s seeming cluelessness about Japanese and samurai culture but he often has insightful observations and is an essential part of the team as they investigate a murder at the shogun’s palace.  There is added pressure not usually found by amateur sleuths – a threat that if they don’t find the killer, their lives may be forfeit so the Shogun has a scapegoat, even if they are innocent.

This is the second in a series, and can be read alone but I instantly went looking for book 1, Claws of the Cat (you know I hate to read out of order).  Minotaur Books can always be relied upon for good mysteries!

Susan Spann is a publishing attorney, which intrigued me when I first heard about this mystery.  Her interest in Japanese history, martial arts, and mystery inspired her to write the Shinobi mystery series featuring Hiro Hattori, a 16th century ninja who tries to bring murders to justice with the help of Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest attempting to convert the Japanese.   You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

What I disliked: I never forgot the setting but if it hadn’t been spelled out, I am not sure I would have guessed when the book took place.  The characters were not anachronistic exactly (my frequent complaint) but  I would have liked a stronger historical feel, not just a sense of different culture.
Source: I received this book from the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and urge you to stop by the tour to learn more about the author and see what other readers had to say about this book.   

1 comment:

Susan Spann said...

Thank you for the lovely review! I'm so glad you enjoyed the book. (And thank you for sharing the release with me as part of the virtual book tour!)