Claws of the Cat
A new mystery series is like a beautifully wrapped gift from a good friend—the whole package is enticing, and you’re eager to open it and be delighted. Susan Spann’s Claws of the Cat does not disappoint.
The team of amateur sleuths in 16th-century Kyoto is an unlikely pairing: Jesuit priest Father Mateo and his bodyguard/translator Hiro, a master shinobi, or samurai ninja warrior, who has sworn to protect the European resident. The point of view is Hiro’s, and through the adept device of his having to both translate and explain, as well as he can, the language, customs, and expectations of his people to the occasionally blundering but astute priest, the reader easily learns very interesting, arcane lore. Of course there’s a murder at the outset, but the stakes quickly rise to alarming heights when honor demands that the two companions solve the murder—or give up their own lives if they fail.
Spann delicately interweaves the life and thoughts of a ninja (there’s got to be a lot of research behind that) while constructing a memorable relationship between these two disparate characters. The Jesuits abroad were typically also used as diplomatic liaisons between governments and rulers, and Father Mateo appears to have this role, one which undoubtedly will expand as the series continues. His reluctant sidekick, Hiro, has a wry, amusing observational tone that makes for excellent narration of the story. I look forward to reading more Shinobi mysteries!