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Claws of the Cat: A Shinobi Mystery Hardcover – July 16, 2013
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Make way for another mystery series set in feudal Japan. Laura Joh Rowland’s Sano Ichiro series has the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries pretty well staked out, and I. J. Parker’s Sugawara Akitada’s beat is the eleventh century. Hiro, the ninja-sleuth in Spann’s debut, lives in the sixteenth century. A samurai is murdered—not just any samurai but also a police officer. The likely culprit, a young teahouse entertainer, claims she didn’t kill the man. But the victim has some highly placed relatives, including his instantly dislikable policeman son, and Hiro wonders if he’ll have enough time to prove the girl’s innocence before the sentence is passed. Hiro is an intriguing character; unlike Ichiro and Akitada, he isn’t an official investigator. However, his ostensible job, as protector to a Jesuit priest, gives him the opportunity to look into the policeman’s murder (while Father Mateo, the priest, serves as a sort of beard and sidekick). Different enough from Rowland’s and Parker’s popular series and set in a mostly untapped period of Japanese history, the book should do well with fans of those writers. --David Pitt
“While Spann demonstrates admirable attention to detail in her ninja detective debut, it's the contemporary tone of her prose that makes this intriguing 16th-century historical so accessible. Laura Joh Rowland fans will like this book for the time period, but the 'buddy tone' is reminiscent of Ian Morson's 'Nick Zuliani' series and Gary Corby's 'Athenian Mysteries' series.” ―Library Journal (starred review, mystery debut of the month)
“This well-written debut mystery set in 16th-century Japan offers a glimpse into a little-known society as well as a brain-teasing puzzle....The bulk of the book is a fascinating description of how [Hiro] teases clues out of conversations and balances the requirements of his assignment with the demands of the samurai lifestyle. One can only hope this Northern California author brings Hiro back in another adventure.” ―San Jose Mercury News
“Spann's debut provides an absorbing look at Japanese culture along with a sharp mystery.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Spann matches period detail with a well-developed whodunit plot in her promising debut, the first in a new series set in 16th-century Japan.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Different enough from Rowland's and Parker's popular series and set in a mostly untapped period of Japanese history, the book should do well with fans of those writers.” ―Booklist
“Claws of the Cat is an excursion into 16th century Japan where exotic locales take on a familiar flavor as a samurai investigates a murder....It's an intriguing tale with dramatic descriptions and vivid characterizations, revealing that love, jealousy, and greed not only are universal emotions, but also remain unchanged by the centuries.” ―New York Journal of Books
“Spann displays her knowledge and expertise while presenting a fascinating and complicated mystery. This is fun, historically entertaining and a very good book.” ―RT Book Reviews (4 stars)
“Susan Spann skillfully transports the reader to Samurai Japan and serves up a feast of intrigue and suspense in a well-drawn exotic and unforgettable world. Claws of the Cat is a delicious adventure and a remarkable debut.” ―Tasha Alexander, New York Times bestselling author of Death in the Floating City
“A terrific mystery debut that delivers an uncanny sense of life in 16th century Japan. Claws of the Cat is fast-paced, tightly plotted, and impossible to put down. Susan Spann has created one of the most original and engaging detectives to enter the mystery world in a long while--the master ninja, Hiro. So take a trip back in time to the murderous, political world of the ninja and the samurai, if you dare!” ―Margaret Coel, New York Times bestselling author of the Wind River mystery series
“A blend of history, mystery, and charm. Hiro and Father Mateo are a fresh take on ‘East meets West.' Authentic and engaging.” ―Laura Joh Rowland, author of The Incense Game
“Claws of the Cat is an amazing debut novel that exceeds expectation. Mystery, adventure, characters who leap off the page, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.” ―Richard Doetsch, bestselling author of Half-Past Dawn
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Top Customer Reviews
Unfortunately for Hiro, Mateo views his duties to his new flock as more important than his life. When a samurai is found brutally murdered and everyone identifies the killer as a young woman entertainer whom Father Mateo has converted to the "foreign religion" and whose innocence he insists on proving, things get very dicey indeed. Apparently the son of the victim has the perfect right to avenge his father's death by slaughtering the supposed killer, and once the priest stands up for the accused, the son decides Mateo's life should be forfeit also. Two days are all Hiro has to find the real killer and save Mateo--and he's not convinced it isn't the woman after all.
The politics of the Shogunate, family dynamics, religious beliefs, the role of women in Japan (and a renegade or two just to keep things especially intriguing), Zen meditation, the differing world views of East and West--this entertaining book will fool you with the range of ideas it covers. Spann's depth of knowledge about Japanese history and culture shines through with great authority and I enjoyed the insights she gave me. Don't you love getting a painless education while indulging in the best escape of all--a good book? Pick up this book for a read you won't be able to put down.
Any story set in a foreign locale appears exotic; a murder in such a place is even more so. Adding to the intensity of Hiro's race against Time in ferreting out the facts of the case, the Japanese mores and customs in general and those of the samurai in particular serve to heighten the drama.
Author Spann has penned a story set in a time of which many Caucasians are ignorant. It's an intriguing tale with dramatic descriptions and vivid characterizations, revealing that love, jealousy, and greed are not only universal emotions, but remain unchanged by the centuries.
This novel was supplied by the publisher and no remuneration was involved in the writing of this review.
This is an excerpt from the review written by me for the New York Journal of Books.