Claws of the Cat by Susan Spann – book review by ROz

claws of the cat

Susan Spann – twitter  website

Publish date:  July 2013

Netgalley.com

Shinobi – Literally, “shadowed person.”

It starts with the main introduction of the two main characters.  Father Mateo and his scribe and translator Hiro, who happens to be a high ranking samurai.  Immediately you get the impression that the relationship is student to master, but it’s far from it.  In fact, it very much reminds me of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as the story progresses.

Father Mateo is a Portuguese priest teaching the Christian faith in Japan with the Shogun’s approval and protection.  Hiro is literally the Father’s shadow.  The relationship is pretty standard as far as most stories go, but you’re immediately reigned in by the beauty of a world that most do not even know, or would understand.  Spann does an incredible job researching and detailing the Shogun era, never quite overwhelming the reader with descriptions, but excellently weaving the Japanese tradition with the main voice of the book, Hiro.  It’s an extremely polite, fragile world of respectability, reputation, and within the first dozen pages, vicious murder.

A retired samurai is murdered violently at a local and reputable teahouse, allegedly by a young ‘entertainer’ who is a convert and part of Father Mateo’s flock.  Immediately Hiro and the Father are thrust into a murder investigation to not only prove the entertainer’s innocence, but to save Father Mateo’s head from joining the young lady’s per the son of the murdered victim who claims the right to avenge his father’s death. They have two and a half days to solve the murder.

What captured me was the beauty in which Susan Spann writes the Japanese culture. Her explanations and description of the forgotten world is amazing and beautiful.  The characters are solid, especially Hiro – the possibly dishonored warrior (although his back-story is extremely vague on purpose), and the dowdy Jesuit priest.  Mateo comes across as clueless, initially, but very much reminded me at how obviously insightful he is with his ‘foreigner’ point of view.  Hiro leads the investigation to protect his ward, but acknowledges that Mateo’s lack of Japanese social graces comes in handy when dealing with the standard snarky characters who are deeply entwined in the murder investigation with everything to hide.

The tea house madam, the vengeful son, the delicate widow, the wistful brother, the jealous General, the threatened Shogun, and the beautiful murder suspect make up this amazing story with the richly developed shinobi detective and his priest.  I really, really enjoyed this book.  It started a little slow, got a little confusing as Spann established the relationships of the characters – especially the Japanese tradition involved with family names – but kept me reading into the wee hours of the night until I finished the damn thing.

I’m hopeful Susan Spann will continue writing more Shinobi mysteries, exploring some of the side characters like Hiro’s young samurai relation ‘Kazu’, the inebriated monk, Ana the Miss Hudson-esque housekeeper, and the life that Hiro left behind to become the priest’s protector. I wholeheartedly recommend it if solid mystery storytelling and well-written fiction is your thing, and really, who wouldn’t enjoy a well-written book?

Claws of the Cat releases July 2013 and is available for pre-order on amazon.com.

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