My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It is August of 1565, and the capital city of Kyoto is in the temporary “protection” of the feared samurai, Matsunaga Hisehide, since the seppuku of Ashikaga, the last official shogun. The city is under a veritable lockdown and everyone entering is viewed as a possible spy including Hattori Hiro and his charge, Jesuit priest, Father Mateo Ávila de Santos.
One morning in the city while purchasing noodles for breakfast, Hiro and Father Mateo see their friend, Ginjiro the brewer, being arrested and hauled off by the yoriki, for the murder of Chikao, a brewer from a poorer part of the city. The two had been heard arguing the night before, and the victim’s body was found outside Ginjiro’s home and place of business with the remnants of one of Ginjiro’s custom saké bottles at hand. The victim’s son apparently owed the accused a considerable amount of money and Ginjiro had refused to advance Chikao any further credit. Ginjiro asserts his innocence and his daughter, Tomiko, begs Hiro and Father Mateo to find the real killer and save her father from certain death at the hand of the executioner.Author Susan Spann has again crafted a compelling murder mystery against the complex background of 16th century Kyoto, Japan. It is a very robust historical tale as, along with the murder investigation, there is the continuing story of the fall of the Ashikaga clan, the impending approach of the fierce warlord, Oda Nobunaga, and the arrival of the Portuguese and Jesuits in Japan. The relationship between Hiro and Father Mateo is great fun to observe as their two cultures and basic natures try to work together and get along as is the side story of Akechi Yoshiko, the female samurai who may have her eye on Hiro for romantic reasons. Additionally, another fun and interesting side story involves Hiro’s pet cat, Gato. The story explains that cats were not considered pets by the Japanese at this time in the past so having a cat in the house is a new experience for the tough, manly Hiro.
This is the third entry in the Shinobi Mystery series which currently numbers at seven total. Flask of the Drunken Master could be read alone but I highly recommend starting at the first in the series because they are just that good and worth looking for. I recommend this series to historical mystery fans especially those with an affinity for stories set in old Japan.
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