Claws of the Cat (Shinobi Mystery #1)

by  Susan Spann

Is there such a thing as a cozy historical ninja murder mystery? I kind of feel like that is what this book entails. There’s a shinobi tasked with protection of a Father Matteo, a Portuguese missionary in Kyoto.

One of the father’s parishioners, an entertainer in a house of pleasure is accused of murdering a high place samurai in the Akechi family. Father Matteo defends her, and in doing so, angers the son of the murdered man. He is given two days to prove the girl’s innocence or be executed along with her.

The POV is the shinobi, Hiro, who lives with and protects Matteo. Most of the book consists of Hiro going around talking to people involved in the murder and uncovering a greater web of secrets that touches on the politics of that time period (Just before Oda Nobunaga basically unifies most of what we consider today’s Japan).

All those bits were interesting. However, the writing style and tone of the story fit more in “cozy” territory than say adventure or thriller because of the kind of matter-of-fact way people interact. Most of Hiro’s shinobi skulking happens in the latter part of the book (indeed near the climax when we’re about to find out who the murderer is there’s a long skulking scene that slowed things down a bit for me and would have been super cool earlier in the book with its references to nuki-ashi stepping and worrying about getting pine sap on his clothing, etc.).

There’s also very little of Father Matteo, and truthfully, the potential bromance between a shinobi and a priest is way more interesting to me (and i mean platonic bromance, as in, the developing of a deep relationship based on gradual understanding of ethics and culture) than the murder mystery. I wish more conversations between Hiro and Matteo were in the book or at least more of how Hiro came to respect and regard Matteo as valuable in the first place.

So entertaining as a cozy mystery with cool historical Japanese details. A little dry at times for me.