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The Ninja’s Daughter: A Hattori Hiro Mystery, by Susan Spann.

May 10, 2016

The Ninja’s Daughter: A Hattori Hiro Mystery, by Susan Spann.  Seventh Street Books, 2016.  230 pages.  A Shinobi Mystery.  Forthcoming

 4 stars

An enjoyable mystery, one of a series, set in medieval Japan about a translator and special protector of a Portuguese Jesuit priest who helps him solve crimes.

Susan Spann is an American author with a deep love and appreciation of Japanese history and culture.  Medieval Japan is the setting of her mystery series featuring Hattori Hiro.  With her deep knowledge of the era, she immerses her readers in life and traditions of Kyoto at a time samurai were fighting for control of the city.  She writes well, giving us lots of historical details without slowing down the building tension of her plot.

Hattori Hiro is a Japanese shinobi, or ninja, who is assigned to protect a Roman Catholic priest from Portugal.  Posing as a translator, Hiro uses his special training and clan vows and, along with the priest, sorts out complex crimes that occur in their city.

When a young woman is found dead, the police refuse to investigate or consider her murdered because she belongs to a family of actors who are not valuable enough for them to care. They also forbid Hiro and the priest to investigate. The demands of the police do not slow Hiro and Father Mateo down, especially when they discover that the woman is the daughter of another shinobi.  Numerous suspects complicate the mystery and widen the story’s picture of Japanese life.  The mystery is complex enough to keep readers focused on the plot at the same time it reveals the personalities of the characters.

Writers and reviewers often complain that historical novels should reflect the degrading sexism of another time and place.  Spann offers an example of of how an author writing about a time when stereotyping was thought to be acceptable can avoid supporting such attitudes today.  She allows some of her characters to express demeaning remarks about both actors and women generally that would have been typical of the time and place of her novel.  Wisely, she balances such remarks with negative portrayal of the characters expressing them and with more positive, inclusive comments by the priest and other outsiders.

I love good mysteries, like this one, that are set in communities which stretch our cultural boundaries.  The Ninja’s Daughter is Spann’s fourth mystery about Hiro.  I look forward to finding the previous ones in the series.  Here and there references to the previous novels left me confused.   I would have enjoyed the book more if I had found the list of characters and the glossary of Japanese words printed at the end before I started the book.

I gladly recommend Spann’s Japanese mysteries to all those who like diversity embedded in plot.

Thanks to Seventh Street Press and Eidelwiess for sending me a digital copy of this book to review.

Other examples of this kind of mystery include Mala Nunn’s novels set in South Africa and Attica Locke’s stories about African Americans in Louisiana. See my blog for reviews.


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