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Shinobi Mystery #1

Claws of the Cat

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May 1564: When a samurai is brutally murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, master ninja Hiro has no desire to get involved. But the beautiful entertainer accused of the crime enlists the help of Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit Hiro is sworn to protect, leaving the master shinobi with just three days to find the killer in order to save the girl and the priest from execution.

The investigation plunges Hiro and Father Mateo into the dangerous waters of Kyoto's floating world, where they learn that everyone from the elusive teahouse owner to the dead man's dishonored brother has a motive to keep the samurai's death a mystery. A rare murder weapon favored by ninja assassins, a female samurai warrior, and a hidden affair leave Hiro with too many suspects and far too little time. Worse, the ninja's investigation uncovers a host of secrets that threaten not only Father Mateo and the teahouse, but the very future of Japan.

275 pages, Hardcover

First published July 16, 2013

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About the author

Susan Spann

10 books209 followers
Author of the Hiro Hattori Novels (Shinobi Mysteries), featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo.

CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013)
Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month
Silver Falchion Finalist: Best First Novel

BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Minotaur Books, 2014)

FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER (Minotaur Books, July 2015)

THE NINJA'S DAUGHTER (Seventh Street Books, August 2016)

BETRAYAL AT IGA (Seventh Street Books, July 2017)

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5 stars
220 (27%)
4 stars
327 (40%)
3 stars
214 (26%)
2 stars
39 (4%)
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4 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 225 reviews
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,861 reviews10.5k followers
July 2, 2014
When a retired samurai is found murdered in a tea house, his son demands his honor be satisfied and he is bent on killing the tea house girl his father was found with. Jesuit priest Matteo stands up for Sayuri and buys her an additional three days of life while Hiro, his shinobi bodyguard, tracks down the real killer. But if Hiro can't, Matteo will be executed along with her...

Claws of the Cat is a historical mystery set in 16th century Japan. I don't remember where I first heard of it but a mystery starring a Jesuit priest and a ninja detective was hard to pass up.

Spann clearly researched the 16th century Japan setting but at no point did I feel like the book suffered from research-itis. There were no infodumps and the introduction to the period customs and culture was fairly painless. The setting was integral to the plot, what with honor, inheritance, and etiquette playing big parts.

Hiro and Matteo were an interesting pair, the Jesuit priest and the shinobi pretending to be a ronin. I thought Hiro would take center stage but they shared the top spot for the most part. Hiro handled all of the sneaking around but Matteo played his parts well.

One thing I really liked is that Spann didn't write Hiro as an unstoppable death machine. He relied on stealth and subterfuge but I got the idea he could handle things if they turned physical. Another thing I liked is that Father Matteo tried to live as a Japanese person rather than surround himself with Western trappings.

The suspects were a diverse mix and I am embarrassed to admit I didn't guess the killer until it was too late. Hideyoshi's family was an interesting bunch, as was the crew at the tea house. Once everything was laid out, I have to say I was very impressed with Susan Spann's debut.

I had a few gripes but they were minor. With all the talk about arquebuses, I was hoping someone would get shot at some point. Also, I wouldn't have minded Hiro getting into a scrape at some time during the proceedings. All in all, I don't have any real complaints, though.

The next book in the series is due out in a couple weeks and I'll have to pick it up. Four out of five stars.
82 reviews8 followers
July 3, 2013
Claws of the Cat was received as a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

It is very rare for me to find a mystery worthy of 5 stars anymore; too many of them follow a cookie cutter pattern. So I was delighted to find that Susan Spann has broken the mold with Claws of the Cat and written an intriguing and fascinating mystery. Spann’s writing paints such a wonderful picture of Kyoto, Japan in the 16th century that the reader feels like they are there. Her characters are real and believable and the interaction between Hiro and Father Mateo has the making of a “beautiful friendship.��� The mystery is intriguing and the action starts with the first page and doesn’t let up until the end. I look forward to future books in this series and am very happy to have discovered this wonderful new author. I highly recommend this book to not only mystery lovers but anyone curious about Japanese culture.
Profile Image for Judith Starkston.
Author 7 books121 followers
July 17, 2013
I love books that take me to a time and place I know little about and then make that setting utterly real to me. When the author also spins a mystery that won’t let go of me, then I’ve found a great read: Susan Spann’s Claws of the Cat. Spann takes us to Japan during the period of samurais and limited contact with the West. Her two “sleuths” are a most unlikely pair. Hiro, a shinobi assassin (think ninjas for the most part), is living undercover as the protector of Father Mateo, a Jesuit priest who has come to Japan to make converts. Interestingly, in many ways Japan has converted Father Mateo. To the disgust of the only other Westerner we encounter, Father Mateo has “gone native.” Hiro’s honor, and hence his life, depend on keeping Mateo alive and well. He’s been sent on this mission against his will originally, but these two are fast becoming a true partnership of intelligent, quirky friends in pursuit of justice.
Unfortunately for Hiro, Mateo views his duties to his new flock as more important than his life. When a samurai is found brutally murdered and everyone identifies the killer as a young woman entertainer whom Father Mateo has converted to the “foreign religion” and whose innocence he insists on proving, things get very dicey indeed. Apparently the son of the victim has the perfect right to avenge his father’s death by slaughtering the supposed killer, and once the priest stands up for the accused, the son decides Mateo’s life should be forfeit also. Two days are all Hiro has to find the real killer and save Mateo—and he’s not convinced it isn’t the woman after all.
The politics of the Shogunate, family dynamics, religious beliefs, the role of women in Japan (and a renegade or two just to keep things especially intriguing), Zen meditation, the differing world views of East and West—this entertaining book will fool you with the range of ideas it covers. Spann’s depth of knowledge about Japanese history and culture shines through with great authority and I enjoyed the insights she gave me. Don’t you love getting a painless education while indulging in the best escape of all—a good book? Pick up this book for a read you won’t be able to put down.
Profile Image for Weina.
Author 4 books703 followers
June 30, 2016
I confess novels set in Asia, either in China, Japan, India, or Malaysia, attract my attention more than other settings, and I have a tendency to pause and read more about the authors who write them, especially if they are not Asian and were not born into the culture. So when I met Susan Spann a few years ago and heard she wrote Japanese mystery, I just couldn't forget her, for she was not Japanese, to begin with.
I was curious to see how she would approach Hiro, the detective who's a shinobi, commonly known as ninja, and if you are like me, you'll know the word ninja carries a dark undertone in Chinese, which Spann commented in the novel as well. Her shinobi is a limber assassin, skillful at his trade, loyal by his profession, and occasionally opinionated, like many common Japanese men described in familiar fictions. The description of the Japanese culture is controlled at the right amount, the seeds of suspicion and digging are delivered at a calculated timing, and the emotion, even at the most critical moment, never overflows from the well of story.
The bond between Hiro and his sidekick, Father Mateo, is endearing. I would compare them to Sherlock and Watson, except Watson does not share Father Mateo's occasional sincere but profound confusion of the Japanese culture. But in that way, Father Mateo comes alive.
A captivating mystery of a unique series!
Profile Image for Maria João (A Biblioteca da João).
1,091 reviews168 followers
October 1, 2018
6,5 de 10*

A cultura japonesa, em geral, e toda a filosofia em torno dos samurais é um tema que me fascina. Todo o código de honra, a organização e a ordem desta cultura, tão afastada da nossa, acabam por ser um tema rico para a literatura. Assim que li a sinopse de “O Pecado da Gueixa” fiquei com vontade de o ler. Afinal une história, passado e um crime. Tem todos os ingredientes para chamar a minha atenção.

Comentário completo em:
http://abibliotecadajoao.blogspot.com...
July 12, 2013
I won this book through the First Reads Giveaway.

I was hesitant to read this book at first because I am very fond of all things Japanese and as such, I tend to be very critical of things that are poorly researched or don't live up to my expectations of the culture.
This book was very well researched but sometimes I felt that the author was a little overly descriptive for no other reason than to prove that the research had been done.
That being said I did like the story line and found the mystery intriguing. While the book kept me entertained while reading it there was a certain lack of action that didn't have me itching to get back to it while I wasn't reading.
I was hoping to see more of the kitten in the book. It seemed important enough to merit it's own introduction but played a non-existent part in the book which would have been fascinating to see. Also, I love kittens...
The characters in the book are nicely written but I wanted to see more of them. I wanted to really get to know these characters and would have loved to see the author develop them.
All of those aside, it was a very enjoyable read and it's a nice change of pace for an author to try something new.
Profile Image for Janet.
Author 3 books452 followers
April 16, 2013
I was fortunate enough to read this amazing jewel of historical fiction before it went off to the publishers. Ms. Spann's descriptions of 16th century Japan are as as clean as a well-swept bamboo floor and as delicate as a cherry blossom-scented breeze.

Hiro, the uh..hero-- of the story is a completely new type of character. A Ninja detective... I mean...Do I need to say more?

The relationship between Hiro and his charge, the Spanish Catholic priest, Father Mateo steals the show. And this in a novel which features katana swords, geishas and murder by claw.

Do not miss the debut on July 16, 2013! Trust me-- pre-order now or mark your calendars.

Profile Image for Barbara ★.
3,452 reviews226 followers
June 23, 2018
This was an enjoyable mystery and I liked the pairing of Hiro and Father Mateo though at times a tad bit religious for my taste. I would read the next book in the series to see if the religious vein continues.
Profile Image for Daniela Peixoto.
110 reviews12 followers
April 29, 2020
Sendo eu uma aficionada pelo Japão e a sua cultura posso dizer que adorei este livro, não só pela riqueza de pormenores de Quioto, como também pelo ambiente descrito para a época e as tradições que mantinham, tudo relatado de forma fiel. A historia narrada é envolvente e junta-mo-nos a Hiro e Mateus na sua descoberta pelo assassino como se fossemos nós. Apesar de ao longo do livro suspeitar-mos de varias personagens, o assassino só é descoberto mesmo no final. Cativou-me imenso e espero que em breve lancem por cá mais livros desta coleçao.
Profile Image for Roger.
1,039 reviews8 followers
March 20, 2021
I enjoyed Claws of the Cat quite a lot. Susan Spann's historical novel takes place in Japan, and despite its' shorter length it reminded me of James Clavell's Shogun, because the cultural web of obligations and etiquette are so prevalent they essentially become an additional character in both books. My only (small) quibble is that I could have used a little more description in Claws of the Cat-from other reading I have done I know Kyoto in this time period was beautiful and I would have liked to have a little more of that featured. I will just have to settle for an excellent mystery.
92 reviews2 followers
June 13, 2022
I enjoyed it til the ending. Seemed a bit anticlimactic.
Profile Image for Julianne Douglas.
44 reviews14 followers
July 18, 2013
How much do you know about sixteenth century history outside the borders of Europe? If you're like me, surprisingly (and embarrassingly) little. As a remedy, I recommend a just-published historical mystery that opens up the exotic, fascinating world of sixteenth century Japan.

Susan Spann's debut mystery novel CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur/St. Martin's Press) whisks the reader away to the land of ninjas, teahouses, samurai and missionaries. Writing with the spare beauty of an oriental flower arrangement, Spann spins an enthralling tale of murder, jealousy, love and honor whose drama is heightened by the ominous pressure of the imposed time constraint. The well-constructed plot cleverly seeds clues and false leads throughout the narrative, keeping the reader engaged, actively analyzing evidence, and racing to solve the mystery in time to save selfless Father Mateo. The ending, although not entirely unanticipated, culminates in an emotionally powerful scene that opposes the Asian notion of honor with that of Western justice.

Beyond its well-wrought plot, CLAWS eclipses the average murder mystery in two other areas: the vibrancy of its historical setting and the depth its characterization. Spann, an attorney with a degree in Asian studies, recreates in vivid and precise detail locales and customs specific to medieval Japan. The reader finds herself stepping through gliding rice-paper doors in a typical Japanese house, strolling paths of raked gravel on the grounds of Buddhist temples, and shouldering crowds on the congested streets of the mercantile quarter. She listens to the song of geishas while drinking ritually prepared tea, quakes in a pit of white sand before the magistrate's desk, and mourns at the funeral of a samurai nobleman. Spann never clogs the narrative with long passages of description or explanation but weaves succinct and evocative sensory and cultural details directly into the unfolding action. The fact that Father Mateo (a Portuguese foreigner who has only been in Japan a matter of months) often needs help understanding Japanese traditions requires native Hiro, the viewpoint character, to notice and elucidate things that he normally would hardly find worthy of mention--all to the great benefit of the reader.

Spann reveals just enough of her characters' back history to explain the present action, but never more. The sense that each character has a complicated and intriguing story of his or her own permeates every scene. For example, the reader knows Hiro is a samurai masquerading as a ninja, but doesn't know how Hiro came by such training or why, and by whom, he has been assigned to protect the priest. Likewise, the reader knows nothing of Father Mateo's past in Portugal nor what motivated him to become a missionary in Japan. Even minor characters, such as Ginjiro, the sake-sodden monk, and Luis, the Portuguese merchant who lives at the rectory, promise to tell captivating tales, if given the chance. The reader is on a quest not only to solve the murder but to piece together the mosaic of these hidden lives and histories. Spann's unique characters inspire compassion in their flawed particularity--I even sympathized with the murderer, despite the evil deed! This satisfying novel is as much--if not more--about the relationship of the characters to each other and to their pasts as it is about discovering who committed the crime. Spann dispenses her revelations at times and in doses that leave the reader panting for more.

I urge readers who normally would not reach for a mystery (and I include myself among them!) to give CLAWS OF THE CAT a try. As one of Susan's critique partners, I can assure you she is thoroughly knowledgeable and immensely passionate about Japanese culture and history. And if you enjoy CLAWS, you're in for a long, delightful ride--Susan has many more stories to tell about the world and characters she introduces in this remarkable debut novel.
Profile Image for Tammy Salyer.
Author 20 books135 followers
March 4, 2015
Admittedly, it’s been over a year since I read Susan Spann’s debut novel, Claws of the Cat. The biggest side effect (I know of, at least) of being a reader and writer for a living is that the constant Victoria Falls of new stories, characters, plots, and worlds that submerge my brain tend to make them all jumble and slosh into sometimes indistinguishable tales.

Not so with Claws of the Cat.

Set in Kyoto, Japan in the fifteen hundreds, Claws of the Cat is a crime fiction mystery and the story of two men, a shinobi in disguise, and his ward, whom he is sworn to protect, a Portugeuse-born Jesuit priest, both drawn into investigating the brutal murder of a samurai in a local teahouse. If the mystery remains unsolved, the price is the Jesuit’s life.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, But I don’t know a thing about fifteenth-century Japan. The beauty of Susan’s storytelling is her talent for drawing readers into this rich and culturally intriguing world with delicacy and subtlety, and her stripped-down, dry-witted style is the perfect complement to her equally sharp-as-a-tack and canny main characters, Hiro Hattori and Father Matteo. When you’ve finished reading Claws of the Cat, you will feel as if you’ve taken a minivacation, both in time and place, to old-world Kyoto, sipped tea in the local teahouses of the Pontocho District, felt mud from the streets squishing beneath your getas, barely dodged the lethal swipe of neko-tes wielded by an adept and dangerous kunoichi, and plotted conspiratorially over cups of sake against the shogunate with other rulerless, wild ronin. In short, this is a whodunnit mystery that will paint your imagination vivid, rare, and intoxicating colors. Don’t miss it! And most exciting of all, the follow-up novel, Blade of the Samurai, is coming soon.
Profile Image for Ronna.
515 reviews54 followers
December 1, 2014
This new mystery series is set in 16th century Japan and is full of interesting new words and the culture of the times. The heroes are an interesting pair. Father Mateo, a Jesuit Priest, and Hero, a master shinobi ( what we think of as a ninja), who is sworn to protect the Father.

When a samurai is murdered in a local Kyota teahouse, the lovely young "entertainer" calls upon the Father to prove her innocence. The murdered man's son is furious and wants immediate revenge --the death of the entertainer who was the only one in the room with the murdered man on the night of his death. He allows Father Mateo two days to prove her innocent and reveal another murderer. If finds no proof, then he threatens to kill both the Father and the girl.

This was a very interesting book. New words were defined in the glossary at the end of the book. The culture of the times makes the detecting much different than what we think of for a modern mystery, with social customs making direct questioning almost impossible. The coupling of a Portuguese Christian Priest with a Japanese shinobi makes for interesting interactions. Knowing very little about those times, I felt myself truly drawn into this well researched and intriguing mystery. Definitely plan to read the next book in this series---BLADE OF THE SAMURI.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
1,520 reviews24 followers
June 25, 2014
First in a new series. I really liked the setting- medieval Japan is not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase "cozy mystery", but there it is. A Portugese priest and his shinobi bodyguard investigate the murder of a samurai at a local teahouse, where one of the priest's recent converts is the main suspect.

The writing style is spare, but I had no trouble imagining the setting. Tantalizing hints of Hiro's past are dropped, but frustratingly not followed up on; I am guessing that more will be revealed in subsequent books, and I'll be watching for those.
Profile Image for Heather Webb.
Author 13 books939 followers
June 1, 2013
Claws of the Cat is a page-turning whodunit packed with sharp details that take the reader on a journey through 16th century Japan. Spann weaves a tight plot with a cast of unique characters with a deft hand. I can't wait to see how the ninja detective, Hiro, reveals more of his dark past as the series unfolds!
Profile Image for Carolien.
764 reviews143 followers
December 19, 2016
This is a cleverly plotted mystery and I enjoyed meeting the cast of characters. The unusual setting adds a special layer to the story and I definitely improved my limited knowledge of Japanese culture. I look forward to trying more books in the series.
Profile Image for Lisa Lieberman.
Author 14 books136 followers
November 4, 2017
I've spent a good deal of time studying suicide, both as a scholar and as a counselor on a suicide hotline. The ritual suicide (seppuku) in this book moved me, and that's saying a great deal. Suicides in novels are so often gratuitous; in real life, too, they can be manipulative gestures, a final effort at self-expression made with an audience very much in mind. Here the act was fitting, its tragedy all the more powerful for being understated (I will say no more, to avoid ruining things for readers who have yet to encounter Claws of the Cat.)

Susan Spann has a remarkable ability to inhabit the world of geisha and samurai in sixteenth-century Japan. The presence of a Portuguese Jesuit missionary gives us Westerners an entrée into this closed society, and I like it that we are left, like Father Mateo, to infer the rules governing social interactions. A glossary of Japanese terms at the back of the book is useful in helping to decipher the more arcane references, but I was too caught up in the story to refer to it until I'd finished.

Disclosure: Susan and I were on a panel together last month at Bouchercon: "Cultural Immersion: Mysteries Steeped in Different Cultures." Her series sounded so intriguing, I couldn't wait to sample it and now I'm hooked.



Profile Image for Murray.
Author 143 books415 followers
April 29, 2021
Medieval Japan & the Samurai

I’m not a murder mystery fan, but I am a fan of books set in other cultures and nations. I’m also a fan of well-written fiction that includes the martial arts (I’ve trained in judo, Shotokan karate, Tae Kwon Do and Kenjutsu or swordsmanship). So I hoped this book would be an intriguing absorption into 16th century Japan, the samurai, Bushido and Japanese culture in general. It was all of that and the murder mystery aspect was, for me, simply a side order of sake.

The author carries the story forward with a lively and colorful pace and brings all sorts of interesting characters into the plot. I’d say my favorite was the main protagonist, samurai Hiro Hattari. His partner, as it were (you know, the perpetual Holmes-Watson thing) was a Portuguese Jesuit priest, Father Matteo. I confess I found the good Father a rather lame character - bland and somewhat lifeless - who didn’t hold my interest at all. I’ll have to see if I change my mind as I read future stories. Meanwhile he doesn’t add to or detract from this story that much so it remains a fun read. I think the author is going to blossom as the series continues. Four stars and onto Book Two.
453 reviews2 followers
May 15, 2019
Once again, Sienna finds a compelling book! I'm a sucker for "Far Eastern" stories -- to this day, that locution pisses me off: "far eastern" from the east-coast anglophile cohort, but for us californios, it our "near east." In so many ways, the ethos and mythos of Japan is as sympathetic as Europe's royalist history. In this book, the expansive and presumably well-informed (I'm not well-informed enough to be critical) use of Japanese terminology is exciting, and gives the book authority. I loved the characters, and the perspective -- the voice of the story, Hiro, is the shinobi, "shadowed person" who's assigned by the shogun to protect a Portuguese Jesuit in Kyoto, and his perspective on his protege's different perception of propriety is illuminating ...as is the way the Jesuit's understanding of Japanese propriety develops through the book. The mystery itself is fascinating, as it reveals the strictly layered society of the times, explicit and accepted where for us, while it's equally present, it's so firmly denied. I'll be looking for more from this author.
Profile Image for Katharine Ott.
1,691 reviews19 followers
August 14, 2021
"Claws of the Cat" - written by Susan Spann and published in 2013 by Thomas Dunne, St Martin's. The bite-sized chapters in this historical mystery novel made the story go quickly. It's 1564 in Japan and a samurai has been murdered in a tea house. Master ninja Hiro and the Jesuit priest he protects, Father Mateo, have a personal interest in the murder and hope to find the culprit before a young entertainer is killed in retribution. Although I didn't have much interest in the outcome, the investigation and also the detailed descriptions of Japanese culture made up for that. Many times they were thwarted by adhering to proper etiquette - "Social convention prevented him from asking." Stories of Asian lands in bygone days have always been a favorite genre of mine. Spann is up to seven in this series featuring Hiro and Mateo. A good choice!
Profile Image for Lindsey.
1,354 reviews15 followers
May 23, 2019
This is a series that I will look forward to reading. Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit in 16th century Japan, and his protector Hiro, a shinobi (ninja), are tasked with finding the murderer of a local samurai to clear a teahouse girl's name and save their own lives in the process. Mateo and Hiro are an interesting sleuthing team and their inquiries highlight the rigid social expectations and cultural taboos in the world of the samurai.
49 reviews2 followers
March 31, 2019
Well written murder mystery. Likable main characters (Hiro and Father Mateo).
Profile Image for Gina.
231 reviews12 followers
September 20, 2021
Susan Spann is a knowledgable and creative writer; her shinobi mysteries are well-crafted. In this one, Father Mateo and Hiro must find the real murderer of a retired general from the shogun's army. Signs point to a teahouse entertainer named Sayuri, but neither Father Mateo or Hiro believe she was capable of such a crime. Hiro does some stealthy searching for information from as many suspects as possible (with Father Mateo's assistance), and figures out whom the killer is before Sayuri (and Father Mateo!) is slaughtered in revenge.

There are scenes of death and suicide in this book, and one or two mentions of someone considering forcing themselves onto a woman.
Profile Image for Laurence Westwood.
Author 4 books17 followers
November 3, 2019
This was an immensely frustrating read. Set in Kyoto in 1564, a samurai is murdered in a tea house, the likely culprit a young Christian woman who is employed as an entertainer at the tea house. She enlists the help of Father Mateo, a Jesuit priest, and thereby – unwittingly – putting the priest’s life in danger also. Sworn to protect the priest, the master shinobi (ninja) Hiro, has three days to prove the young woman’s innocence and thereby save not only her life but also the life of Father Mateo.

This is a period of history that fascinates me but after reading this mystery I am left wondering about what might have been. We are plunged into the solving the mystery at the tea house immediately, which is all well and good, but for those of you who will be expecting to swiftly learn how a shinobi came to be protecting the life of a Jesuit priest the answer will not be found in this first book in the series. Now this might seem like a minor issue, something to look forward to in a later book, but it speaks to a greater problem with the book: that everything is happening in a political and religious context that is never properly explained. Maybe this was an editing decision on the part of the publishing house, that they wanted a short, sharp mystery the pace of which is never slowed by discussions or explanations beyond the mystery at hand, but in my view this is a serious – almost fatal – mistake.

On the other hand it might have been the author’s decision. She does seem to have a problem educating the reader on what needs to be known. Much of what the reader is taught emerges from conversations between Father Mateo and Hiro, such as the value of monetary denominations. But this has the unfortunate effect of making Father Mateo seem immensely stupid and almost entirely ignorant of the basic aspects of a culture in which he is living and preaching. Jesuit priests might have had many shortcomings but stupidity was almost certainly not one of them. Moreover, in Father Mateo’s and Hiro’s joint interactions with people, depending on the requirement of the scene, Father Mateo comes across as either highly sensitive to cultural nuances or highly ignorant – which I have to say left me completely baffled. I just feel that with a little more effort and a little more skill a better effect could have been achieved.

There were also some odd formatting issues with the text. Many times, when someone was speaking, the last sentence spoken was placed on the line below the rest of the spoken paragraph. This may have been done to accentuate that last sentence but more often than not this placement of text left me highly confused as to who was speaking at any particular moment of time. I must admit I have never really come across this problem before in other books and I am left wondering whether this was just an odd authorial or editorial decision. Either way it was unnecessary and unfortunate.

All this being said, it was an enjoyable little mystery. And, because I like this period of history so much, I am now left pondering whether or not I should purchase Book 2….
Profile Image for Mark Stevens.
Author 6 books168 followers
November 12, 2013
We’re in 16th century, medieval Japan. Kyoto. There’s a problem of the retired samurai who’s been violently attacked in a teahouse and left to die, his loincloth so soaked with blood that it is stuck to his hips. His throat is “ruined.” The vase holding hydrangeas is spattered with blood. The suspect list is short. At least, at first. There’s certainly an obvious suspect and there’s a nifty ticking clock—a local magistrate concedes to a few days of grace to figure out who wielded the knife and left such a mess.

Honor is stake. Codes govern nearly every interaction. There’s a foreigner in our midst and he’s, well, Christian.

Father Mateo is the Portugese priest and his protector is Hiro, a well-respected samurai who is working undercover. Hiro is Father Mateo’s shadow (shadows are a powerful undercurrent to the whole story; so are masks) and the two form an odd pair of detectives who learn to trust each other’s strengths as they pursue their cause with careful logic, shrewd tact and the occasional trap.

With its sharp-eyed plot and rich atmosphere, Susan Spann’s “Claws of the Cat” transports the reader back five centuries to a culture of contrasts. With Father Mateo in tow, we see and learn the multi-faceted rules and customs from the earthen street to the halls of power. As others have noted, this is a full-blown immersion into the culture and society at that time. There’s a bit of hand-holding along the way as details are explained, but the observations are sprinkled in as relevant notes for Hiro, Father Mateo or the investigation. Or all three. With her clean, precise prose style, Spann makes the social studies tidbits belong like a blossom on a cherry tree.

You’ll want to keep a spare finger or thumb in Spann’s handy glossary and you’ll want to see if you can stay ahead of Father Mateo and Hiro. If you avoid mysteries because they lean toward suspense or cheap thrills, you’ll enjoy “Claws of the Cat” because it respects the reader, lets you play along. The thrill is in spotting every relevant detail and, of course, it’s in the catch. Spann plays fair and gives a good game. Just remember: A shinobi’s first and greatest defense is misdirection.

Profile Image for Aimie Runyan.
Author 10 books786 followers
October 7, 2013
This review delves into the world of Susan Spann’s CLAWS OF THE CAT. A Shinobi mystery set in the 1500s, my little historian’s heart was captivated. We have a cast of compelling characters:

Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest who is ministering to the Japanese people,
Matsui Hiro, his Shinobi bodyguard who also proves to be a worthy detective,
Sayuri, the beautiful entertainer who is a prime suspect for a murder
Akechi Hideyoshi: The samurai murdered in an upper class tea house
Akechi Nobuhide: His son and heir apparent
Akechi Hidetaro: The deceased’s brother
Akechi Yoshiko: Hideyoshi’s tomboy daughter
Akecho Sato: Hideyoshi’s wife and Christian convert
Mayuri: The tea house owner and consummate business owner
Many more!

The story opens when Hideyoshi’s body is found in the teahouse, only Sayuri present. The case seems at first glance to be an obvious open and shut: the lovely entertainer is clearly guilty. Father Mateo is not convinced. Sayuri is one of his converts and he cannot believe the innocent girl would be capable of a gristly murder. Nobuhide is infuriated at the priest’s interference and threatens to kill both Sayuri and Father Mateo in three days if they do not produce the real killer.

So many mysteries fall into the trap of overly-punchy sentences and one-page chapters to create the feeling of suspense. Spann does not need to resort to these tricks. In fact, her language is beautifully crafted, almost lyrical in many places. She provides us with delicious descriptions of the scenery and people of 16th century Japan. She uses the Father Mateo character deftly to show s the intricacies of the Japanese society and culture without being too overt and didactic. Spann manages to do all this while maintaining an “on the edge of your seat” level of suspense. A huge feat as far as I’m concerned. As a debut novel, this is an exemplary work blending the best elements of mystery and historical fiction. I am anxiously looking forward to the next books in her series!
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689 reviews8 followers
August 18, 2013
Definitely not my favorite Japanese historical mystery and for multiple reasons. There was a lot of clunkiness in her attempt to create a mystery-solving duo made of one Portuguese priest and Japanese ninja. Spann started off by telling us that neither is yet fluent in the other's language, yet they constantly have sophisticated conversations in both. More thought was needed to make that believable. The problems continued with the way she tried to bring information about Japan into the narrative. Her details too often felt pedantic rather than natural, and she has a penchant for using the Japanese word when it doesn't actually add to the story and then slowed things down by requiring an explanation that would have worked just as well standing on its own. I often felt she just wanted to show off what she'd learned in the pursuit of her Asian-oriented hobbies (see book jacket). And then there was the actual narrative. There definitely wasn't much fluff in this book. It was pretty much a mystery stripped down to its essentials - lots of interviews with suspects and very little development of the main characters. Normally I would be bothered by this, but since I didn't particularly like the main characters, I was happy for a quick ending.
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