Trial on Mount Koya
A Hiro Hattori Novel #6
A Shinobi Mystery
Seventh Street Books, July 2018
From the publisher—
November, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo travel to a Buddhist temple at the summit of Mount Koya, carrying a secret message for an Iga spy posing as a priest on the sacred mountain. When a snowstorm strikes the peak, a killer begins murdering the temple’s priests and posing them as Buddhist judges of the afterlife–the Kings of Hell. Hiro and Father Mateo must unravel the mystery before the remaining priests–including Father Mateo–become unwilling members of the killer’s grisly council of the dead.
Anyone who is a fan of Agatha Christie will recognize the tip of the hat this book is to her And Then There Were None with the isolated setting and the killer who picks off the victims one at a time and that really adds an element of fun to the story. This unusual pair of sleuths—a Portuguese Jesuit priest and his shinobi companion/bodyguard—have come to this remote temple because Hiro has been ordered to deliver a message to an Iga spy but they soon find themselves looking for a murderer among the monks and a couple of visitors. Although each investigation these two have conducted has its own peculiarities, this time Hiro is off-center, partly because of a personal sorrow but also because he comes to believe his friend may be in real jeopardy.
Along with the investigation, we also learn a little about the Buddhist religion in the 16th century and why the killer might be posing his victims, one by one, as the judges of the afterlife. The juxtaposition of the Buddhist tenets with those of a Catholic priest is striking and sheds more light on the relationship between Hiro and Father Mateo, two men who are vastly different and yet so respectful of each other. Each brings a unique perspective to the investigation and they are made even more interesting by their positions in feudal Japanese society.
Ms. Spann, as I’ve come to expect, creates vivid settings—her ability to evoke a visual understanding of the surroundings is full of the small details that bring them to life—and her characters are so fully fleshed out as to make our sleuths seem like people we actually know. It’s not just the two investigators that draw the attention, though; others are just as memorable, such as their housekeeper, Ana (a favorite of mine from earlier books).
Wonderful use of atmospheric language, very appealing players and an intriguing plot make Trial on Mount Koya another brilliant entry in this series I’ve come to love. Hiro and Father Mateo are among my very favorite historical investigators and I can barely wait for their next adventure, Ghost of the Bamboo Road, due out later this year.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2019.
Re-issue/New Cover Reveal
Claws of the Cat
A Hiro Hattori Novel
A Shinobi Mystery, Book 1
A master ninja and a Portuguese priest investigate the murder of a samurai in medieval Kyoto. May 1564: When a samurai is brutally murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, master ninja Hiro has no desire to get involved. But the beautiful entertainer accused of the crime enlists the help of Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit Hiro is sworn to protect, leaving the master shinobi with just three days to find the killer in order to save the girl and the priest from execution. The investigation plunges Hiro and Father Mateo into the dangerous waters of Kyoto’s floating world, where they learn that everyone from the elusive teahouse owner to the dead man’s dishonored brother has a motive to keep the samurai’s death a mystery. A rare murder weapon favored by ninja assassins, a female samurai warrior, and a hidden affair leave Hiro with too many suspects and far too little time. Worse, the ninja’s investigation uncovers a host of secrets that threaten not only Father Mateo and the teahouse, but the very future of Japan.
Re-issued by Seventh Street Books, April 23, 2019.