Claws of the Cat by Susan Spann
When a retired samurai is found murdered in a tea house, his son demands his honor be satisfied and he is bent on killing the tea house girl his father was found with. Jesuit priest Matteo stands up for Sayuri and buys her an additional three days of life while Hiro, his shinobi bodyguard, tracks down the real killer. But if Hiro can't, Matteo will be executed along with her...
Claws of the Cat is a historical mystery set in 16th century Japan. I don't remember where I first heard of it but a mystery starring a Jesuit priest and a ninja detective was hard to pass up.
Spann clearly researched the 16th century Japan setting but at no point did I feel like the book suffered from research-itis. There were no infodumps and the introduction to the period customs and culture was fairly painless. The setting was integral to the plot, what with honor, inheritance, and etiquette playing big parts.
Hiro and Matteo were an interesting pair, the Jesuit priest and the shinobi pretending to be a ronin. I thought Hiro would take center stage but they shared the top spot for the most part. Hiro handled all of the sneaking around but Matteo played his parts well.
One thing I really liked is that Spann didn't write Hiro as an unstoppable death machine. He relied on stealth and subterfuge but I got the idea he could handle things if they turned physical. Another thing I liked is that Father Matteo tried to live as a Japanese person rather than surround himself with Western trappings.
The suspects were a diverse mix and I am embarrassed to admit I didn't guess the killer until it was too late. Hideyoshi's family was an interesting bunch, as was the crew at the tea house. Once everything was laid out, I have to say I was very impressed with Susan Spann's debut.
I had a few gripes but they were minor. With all the talk about arquebuses, I was hoping someone would get shot at some point. Also, I wouldn't have minded Hiro getting into a scrape at some time during the proceedings. All in all, I don't have any real complaints, though.
The next book in the series is due out in a couple weeks and I'll have to pick it up. Four out of five stars.
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