Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann

I pretty much never read straight-up mystery novels, but when I was contacted about Blade of the Samurai, I was intrigued by the setup: an undercover samurai, Hiro Hattori, solves mysteries with Father Mateo , the Catholic priest he's been commissioned to protect. Sounded like an interesting spin on the detective story, and I figured I'd at least enjoy the setting, so I picked it up.

The mystery this time is as follows: Saburo, a cousin of the shogun, has been stabbed to death in his quarters, and the apparent perpetrator is Kazu, a longtime friend of Hiro's. Because of their connection, he's called to investigate the case, which must--will--be closed before an important diplomatic attache arrives, even if it means executing a man who may not be guilty.

I'm happy to say that, on the samurai detective front, it delivered. Blade of the Samurai tells a pleasantly diverting little yarn with bursts of good humor and some fairly sharp characterization. I enjoyed the interactions between Hiro and Father Mateo, but moreso, I enjoyed the reactions of the Japanese with whom Father Mateo came into contact with. While many authors might have played the cultural differences for fish-out-of-water japery, Spann takes them seriously for the most part, culminating in a scene where Father Mateo is scolded and subsequently repentant for treating peasants the same way he treats the hoi-poi.

This scene encapsulates the other thing I wanted from the book and didn't quite get: a more thorough examination of the relationship between Father Mateo's faith and Hiro's ancestral religion. I'm a sucker for Catholic novels, but besides the fact that Father Mateo spends about 25% of the novel offscreen, Spann mostly doesn't focus too much on his inner life--and, to be fair, that's my own baggage coming into the book. Still, I would have liked a little more.

Overall, however, the mystery moved quickly, especially when supporting characters start biting it in the back half, and the killer wasn't obvious to me--I can't speak for more experienced mystery fans. It was fun, and if you like mysteries or find the setting of feudal Japan interesting, check it out.


Harvee Lau - Book Dilettante said...

Mateo's inner life might have changed the tenor of the mystery novel a bit. But it might make a good other book in itself - the Jesuits in feudal Japan!

Brent Waggoner said...

Agreed. I think the book was good anyway--that's just personal hobby horse. If someone writes that series, I'd like to read it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for being a part of the tour!