Book Review: Flask of the Drunken Master by Susan Spann

Flask of the Drunken MasterFlask of the Drunken Master
A Shinobi Mystery #3
Susan Spann
Minotaur Books, July 2015
ISBN 978-1-250-02706-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

August 1565: When a rival artisan turns up dead outside Ginjiro’s brewery, and all the evidence implicates the brewer, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo must find the killer before the magistrate executes Ginjiro and seizes the brewery, leaving his wife and daughter destitute. A missing merchant, a vicious debt collector, and a female moneylender join Ginjiro and the victim’s spendthrift son on the suspect list. But with Kyoto on alert in the wake of the shogun’s recent death, a rival shinobi on the prowl, and samurai threatening Hiro and Father Mateo at every turn, Ginjiro’s life is not the only one in danger.

Will Hiro and Father Mateo unravel the clues in time to save Ginjiro’s life, or will the shadows gathering over Kyoto consume the detectives as well as the brewer?

I first made the acquaintance of two fine gentlemen, Hiro Hattori and Father Mateo, just about a year ago when I read Blade of the Samurai and promptly fell in love with them and with their regard for each other. As private investigators in 16th-century Japan, they are very different from our contemporary sleuths and, yet, they are also much the same. What endears them to me is their relationship. Separately, they are each very intelligent and knowledgeable in their respective fields but, together, they become a true team and each one clearly cares a great deal for the other. The Portuguese Jesuit frequently blunders his way through the cultural quagmire of this foreign country and the ninja annoys the priest with his willingness to occasionally stretch the truth to reach a goal but they still look after one another as friends do.

Class distinctions are very evident in their current case with the vast separation between the Samurai and the lowest of the low. The Samurai are also embroiled in the struggle for power following the events of the previous book and this infuses the investigation into the death of a local brewer. It’s especially interesting that a theme common in today’s criminal inquiries—follow the money—is just as prominent in medieval times.

The mystery to be solved in Flask of the Drunken Master is every bit as engaging and puzzling as in the earlier book and, despite the violence that imbues the shogunate society, it will appeal to all but the most hardcore cozy reader because, in an odd manner, there’s a gentleness to it. Actually, in some ways, this series reminds me of the fellow with the “little grey cells”; Hiro and Mateo are much more likely to use their minds than their brawn.

All in all, Ms. Spann has once again offered us a corker of a story and I enjoyed every minute I spent with the priest and the ninja. I just wish I had their next adventure waiting for me to step into right now.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

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About the Author

Susan Spann 2Susan Spann is a transactional publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Susan has a degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University, where she studied Chinese and Japanese language, history, and culture. Her hobbies include cooking, traditional archery, martial arts, and horseback riding. She lives in northern California with her husband, son, two cats, and an aquarium full of seahorses.

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