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by Susan Spann
Seventh Street Books, April 2019
240 pages
ISBN: 1633885445

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Ahead of publishing a new book this fall, Seventh Street Books is reprinting Susan Spann's series about a 16th-century samurai—and a good decision that is, as the series, first published by Minotaur Books, deserves a second look.

In this first book, readers are introduced to samurai Hiro Hattori, who has been sworn to protect the Portuguese priest Father Mateo Avila de Santos, only recently arrived to Kyoto.

When a man is murdered at a teahouse, one of the entertainers, a young woman named Sayuri, is suspected in the death—after all, she was entertaining the victim, Akechi-san. But Sayuri claims she was asleep, only to wake up and find Akechi-san dead and bloody, his throat ripped open. Sayuri, recently converted to Catholicism, asks Father Mateo for help.

But the victim's son, Nobuhide, has the right to avenge his father's death, and he wants Sayuri to pay for the crime. When the priest pleads for her life, Nobuhide gives him two days to prove her innocence; if Father Mateo can't prove her innocence, Nobuhide will not only kill her but also kill the priest.

In order to save the priest, Hiro must step in and help investigate. This may be the 16th century, but the age-old motives of greed, love, and envy are all in play here. At the family home, Hiro and Father Mateo find a neko-te, a small leather sheath with metal blades protruding from the tips. When slipped on a hand, a neko-te imitates the claws of a giant cat, a lethal weapon that could very well have been used in Akechi-san's murder.

Although the novel is rich in historical and cultural details, the language and dialogue are contemporary and often humorous, making the plot easy to follow. What is not easy to solve is the whodunnit, and Spann provides us with a delicious twist. We look forward to reading the rest of this promising series.

§ Lourdes Venard is an independent editor who divides her time between New York and Maui.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, August 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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