Book Review: Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann

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Title: Blade of the Samurai
Series: A Shinobi Mystery
Author: Susan Spann
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: July 15, 2014
Genre: Historical Mystery


Praise for Blast of the Samurai

“The second Hiro Hattori mystery (after 2013’s Claws of the Cat)
finds the sixteenth-century ninja—and unofficial investigator—
presented with an interesting problem…A strong second
entry in a very promising series.”—Booklist

“Hiro and Father Mateo’s second adventure (Claws of the Cat, 2013)
combines enlightenment on 16th-century Japanese life with a sharp
and well-integrated mystery.”—Kirkus Reveiws



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Blade of the SamuraiBlade of the Samurai
A Shinobi Mystery
Susan Spann
Minotaur Books, July 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-02705-4

From the publisher—

June, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori receives a pre-dawn visit from Kazu, a fellow shinobi working undercover at the shogunate. Hours before, the Shogun’s cousin, Saburo, was stabbed to death in the Shogun’s palace. The murder weapon: Kazu’s personal dagger. Kazu says he’s innocent, and begs for Hiro’s help, but his story gives Hiro reason to doubt the young shinobi’s claims.

When the Shogun summons Hiro and Father Mateo, the Jesuit priest under Hiro’s protection, to find the killer, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between friendship and personal honor.

The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the Shogun and overthrow the ruling Ashikaga clan. With Lord Oda’s enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro must use his assassin’s skills to reveal the killer’s identity and protect the Shogun at any cost. Kazu, now trapped in the city, still refuses to explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder. But a suspicious shogunate maid, Saburo’s wife, and the Shogun’s stable master also had reasons to want Saburo dead. With the Shogun demanding the murderer’s head before Lord Oda reaches the city, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time … or die in his place.

Blade of the Samurai is a complex mystery that will transport readers to a thrilling and unforgettable adventure in 16th century Japan.

Book One of the Shinobi Mysteries series, Claws of the Cat, was released in 2013.

Sixteenth-century feudal Japan is an exotic setting in a fascinating age for Westerners. Of course, we had our own feudal period but the cultural differences between West and East at that time were dramatic. In some ways, the medieval Japanese were more brutal, such as in the concept that a criminal’s family could suffer the same punishment in addition to, or in place of, the actual criminal. On the other hand, they placed far more emphasis than Westerners did on proper behavior.

Such is the setting of Blade of the Samurai and it is so different from our customary mystery fare that it could be a distraction from the story if the author were not so adept at her craft. Susan Spann weaves her tale in with the time and place masterfully, creating a puzzle that seems almost gentle at times while dealing with warlords and spies and noble warriors whose mere look could stop a commoner in his tracks. Hiro is a remarkable man of high intelligence and infinite patience, especially when confronted with Father Mateo’s frequent lapses of proper manners. Both men are clearly fond of each other and they work together seamlessly and with quiet humor when called upon to solve crimes, this time the murder of the shogun’s cousin. What makes this case more urgent and personal is that they may pay the price themselves if they don’t identify the murderer.

Ms. Spann has developed a plot rife with suspects and potential motives that shows her own comfort with the history of the period and I thoroughly enjoyed learning a bit of history. Even more, her characters are so lifelike that I could almost see them standing before me. Hiro and Father Mateo stand out but others, particularly Kazu, Akira and a young boy named Ichiro  are just as vibrant. If I have any complaint at all, it’s that I often wished for a cast of characters because I found some of them a little difficult to remember, I’m sure because the Japanese names are unfamiliar.

Concocting a complicated mystery with dynamic players is hard enough; doing so in a well-researched historical period makes it something special. I’m  motivated now to go back and read the first Shinobi Mystery while I wait for the third.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2014.


About the Author


Susan Spann 1Susan Spann acquired her love of books and reading during her preschool days in Santa Monica, California. As a child she read everything from National Geographic to Agatha Christie. In high school, she once turned a short-story assignment into a full-length fantasy novel (which, fortunately, will never see the light of day).

A yearning to experience different cultures sent Susan to Tufts University in Boston, where she immersed herself in the history and culture of China and Japan. After earning an undergraduate degree in Asian Studies, Susan diverted to law school. She returned to California to practice law, where her continuing love of books has led her to specialize in intellectual property, business and publishing contracts.

Susan’s interest in Japanese history, martial arts, and mystery inspired her to write the Shinobi Mystery series featuring Hiro Hattori, a sixteenth-century ninja who brings murderers to justice with the help of Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest. When not writing or representing clients, Susan enjoys traditional archery, martial arts, horseback riding, online gaming, and raising seahorses and rare corals in her highly distracting marine aquarium. Susan lives in Sacramento with her husband, son, three cats, one bird, and a multitude of assorted aquatic creatures.

For more information please visit Susan Spann’s website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


Follow the tour:

Monday, July 7
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, July 8
Review at Closed the Cover

Wednesday, July 9
Review at Staircase Wit
Guest Post & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time

Thursday, July 10
Review at Booklover Book Reviews

Monday, July 14
Review at Bibliophilia, Please

Wednesday, July 16
Review at Buried Under Books

Thursday, July 17
Review at Flashlight Commentary (Claws of the Cat)
Spotlight at Reviews by Molly

Friday, July 18
Review at History Undressed

Monday, July 21
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book

Tuesday, July 22
Review at Judith Starkston
Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book

Wednesday, July 23
Review at The True Book Addict

Thursday, July 24
Interview at Layered Pages

Monday, July 28
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

Tuesday, July 29
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, July 30
Review at Princess of Eboli

Thursday, July 31
Review at A Fantastical Librarian

Friday, August 1
Review at Reading the Ages


Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours