Spann, Susan. Claws of the Cat: A Shinobi Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jul. 2013. 276p. ISBN 9781250027023. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250027030. M
When a Kyoto samurai is murdered at a teahouse, the victim’s son (a police commander) demands quick resolution. He is ready to convict and execute Sayuri, the young entertainer found at the scene, and who happens to be a Christian convert. But her priest, Father Mateo, negotiates two days to prove her innocence. Matsui Hiro, a master shinobi, or ninja, is responsible for protecting the Portuguese Jesuit priest, and since Father Mateo feels obligated to save Sayuri, Hiro moves into detective mode. Hiro initially observes details that indicate the killing was personal, but then he learns that the teahouse owner destroyed financial records after the crime. Further, the victim was not universally loved; his family includes an estranged brother, a widow who is also a Christian convert, and a defiant samurai daughter. Time is running out for Sayuri. VERDICT While Spann demonstrates admirable attention to detail in her ninja detective debut, it’s the contemporary tone of her prose that makes this intriguing 16th-century historical so accessible. Laura Joh Rowland fans will like this book for the time period, but the “buddy tone” is reminiscent of Ian Morson’s “Nick Zuliani” series and Gary Corby’s “Athenian Mysteries” series.