Trial on Mount Koya

Written by Susan Spann
Review by J. Lynn Else

November, 1565. This sixth installment of Spann’s Shinobi Mystery series finds master ninja Hiro Hattori and the Portuguese Jesuit he’s protecting, Father Mateo, traveling to a Buddhist temple on Mount Koya with a message. They arrive shortly before a snowstorm covers Japan’s sacred summit, preventing anyone from leaving. After Hiro delivers his message, the monk who received it ends up murdered. More horrifying, the dead man is posed as a Buddhist judge of the afterlife. Hiro suspects the samurai warlord who recently attacked his clan, the losses from the attack still raw in Hiro’s heart. However, Father Mateo has different ideas surrounding the perpetrator’s identity. As others are murdered and posed in the same manner, Hiro and Father Mateo find time running out, and one of them may be the next target.

Spann’s exceptional understanding of 16th-century Japan is obvious early on. I have scant knowledge about this time and place, but the author’s fluidly descriptive prose painted vivid pictures from which I could almost hear the shoji sliding open or smell the incense smoke coiling around the narrative. Despite being the sixth book of a series, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily I fell into the storyline. The characters have been through a lot at this point, and Hiro is very gruff for most of the book as he continues to cope with a loved one’s loss. While a few hints of the past eluded me, overall I was able to grasp the relational dynamics between Hiro and Father Mateo. A well-crafted, atmospheric mystery with its fair share of surprises. I’ll be going back to read the first novel in this series.