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Monday, August 29, 2016

Hiro, Father Mateo and the Murder of the Ninja's Daughter

The Ninja's Daughter (Shinobi Mystery, #4)The Ninja's Daughter by Susan Spann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another murder in Kyoto for Hiro and Father Mateo to solve. A young girl strangled to death on the riverside, a young merchant's apprentice arriving at their door in the early morning hours sure that he has killed her in a drunken stupor and asking their help.

Susan Spann continues to bring medieval Japan to life, populating it with men and women of every rank and profession. Here we are introduced to a company of actors and so we learn of the tradition of noh theatre and those who perform it. Another aspect of Japanese custom and behavior as the setting in which the Jesuit priest and his samurai body guard investigate this complicated murder.

At the same time we learn of the history of Japanese government--for the shogun who has ruled for many years has died and in the vacuum left behind several samurai compete for the role. It would appear war is imminent, indeed, one samurai has seized control of Kyoto in the Spring and now, in the Fall of 1565, it may be that another will march on the city in an attempt to wrest if from him. There is much police activity and control of the movements of the inhabitants and, in time, the danger to Hiro and Father Mateo is so great they and their housekeeper and the Portuguese arms dealer who reside with them must flee the city. But, first, a murder must be solved, in great secrecy since the presiding magistrate has forbidden an investigation.

All of the characters come to life in the story but the most interesting thing, if one has read the first three books, is the development of Hiro, Fr. Mateo as characters and their relationship through time is so real. Initially, the Portuguese priest is so unaware of the formal etiquette of Japanese interaction that he often embarrasses Hiro, his samurai body guard, by bluntly asking questions or opening discussions that are off limits. He does not recognize or chooses to ignore the relative positions of commoners and samurai. But, by this time, in the fourth book, he has learned much more and Hiro and he have developed an uncanny ability to use his position as a foreigner to their advantage while investigating murders. In addition, they have become more relaxed and intimate in what has become a true friendship--to the point where the Jesuit shares a secret he has shared with no one in over 20 years.

As in real life, this familiarity has developed over time and was not immediate. Both have learned more about each other's cultures and religions gradually and the reader is along for the ride. Even Ana, the housekeeper, is more like family rather than a competitor for Mateo's attention or, indeed, for the position of his protector. This is most strongly shown at the end of the book--when they are fleeing Kyoto there was no mention of Gato, the adorable cat. I could not believe Spann forgot to include her in the escape and my heart was broken--but then, Hiro, many miles away, also realizes he's forgotten her. He, too, develops a lump in his throat at the thought. Ah, but Ana, she is wise and caring and oh, well, off they go to Hiro's home of Igo, where, I hope, the story will resume in the next book.

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