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Claws of the Cat: A Shinobi Mystery    by Susan Spann order for
Claws of the Cat
by Susan Spann
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Here's a historical mystery series set in Japan (in the sixteenth century in this case). Susan Spann's debut novel is Claws of the Cat: A Shinobi Mystery, starring Hiro, a shinobi (ninja). He's been assigned the job of protecting the life of Jesuit priest Mateo, who does not always make that task easy. Their back story is rather murky but I assume the intent is to fill it in during future episodes.

Though I was initially put off by the dialogue between Hiro and Father Mateo (which simply didn't strike the right notes for the time and place) I stuck with the story and the mystery pulled me in. As Claws of the Cat opens, Hiro gives his friend an abandoned kitten (the murder weapon also has a feline theme). When the priest is called to the Sakura Teahouse, Hiro accompanies him. Sayuri, an entertainer and a Christian, is accused of the murder of Akechi, an eminent samurai.

The victim's son, Nobuhide, a local police commander, is ready to execute Sayuri on the spot but Father Mateo intercedes on her behalf - he and Hiro are given two days to prove her innocence. They interview all concerned including the dead man's wife, brother and daughter. Though many lie to them, Hiro declares they must 'Trust the evidence' and 'Follow a lie far enough and you will reach a fact.' Which is how they proceed.

Questions arise. Why did the teahouse owner burn her ledger? Who was the mysterious merchant and what was his real business? Is the shogun involved or was it an enemy spy? Why did the dead man make his daughter his heir and not his son? Gradually all these questions are answered and the true culprit revealed in this atmospheric ninja procedural. It ends with a glossary of Japanese terms.

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