Sunday, July 30, 2017

"Betrayal At Iga: A Hiro Hattori Novel"

Autumn in Japan in the year 1565, a time fraught with tension as rival clans vie for supremacy. Who will become the reigning shogun?

The ninja Hiro Hattori, paid by a mysterious benefactor to protect the life of the Jesuit Father Mateo Ávila de Santos, has fled Kyoto with the Portuguese priest. Now, sheltered in Iga province, his home, Hiro and Father Mateo are confronted with the biggest challenge of their lives. There will be war among ninja clans unless the pair can find a murderer in their midst.

Sacramento writer Susan Spann (, a recent guest at the Butte College WordSpring writing conference, continues her series of ninja (the Japanese pronunciation is "shinobi") mysteries with "Betrayal At Iga: A Hiro Hattori Novel" ($15.95 in paperback from Seventh Street Books; also for Amazon Kindle).

The story follows on from "Claws Of The Cat," the first in the series, "Blade Of The Samurai," and "The Ninja's Daughter," though it works well as a standalone mystery. (There's a cast of characters list and a glossary of Japanese terms, quite helpful as the reader is brought up close and personal into medieval samurai culture.)

Taste, smell, and proper decorum all play significant roles in the mystery, which begins innocently enough as Hiro and Father Mateo are invited to be received at a welcome meal by Hiro's cousin, Hattori Hanzō, "leader of Iga ryu" or clan.

At the same time Hanzō is welcoming a delegation, all shinobis themselves, from the Koga families, with whom he seeks to form an alliance. Only in so doing can the clans resist the samurai warlord Oda Nobunaga's quest to rule all of Japan. (Oda is based on a historical figure, though most of the characters in the book are fictional.)

Things do not go well. Koga Yajiro dies a horrible death at the table, and poison is suspected. But who would do such a thing, and why? Hiro and Father Mateo have just three days to identify the murderer to prevent the clans from sinking into internecine warfare. There are more murders and almost everyone is suspected of betrayal, including Hiro's mother.

It's a classic whodunit, compulsively readable.

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