A review of The Ninja’s Daughter and Betrayal at IGA by Susan Spann

Reviewed by Carmen Amato

The Ninja’s Daughter
A Hiro Hattori Novel (A Shinobi Mystery)
by Susan Spann
Seventh Street Books
ISBN-13: 978-1633881815, Paperback, August 2, 2016

Betrayal at IGA
A Hiro Hattori Novel (A Shinobi Mystery)
by Susan Spann
Seventh Street Books
Paperback, July 11, 2017, ISBN-13: 978-1633882775

In The Ninja’s Daughter, Susan Spann lures us into medieval Japan with a story as shiny as the throwing star hidden in the kimono sleeve of ninja-with-a-heart Hiro Hattori.

It is 1565 and Hiro and the Jesuit priest he has sworn to protect once again find themselves investigating a murder. This time, a young man implores Father Mateo’s help after discovering a girl strangled on the riverbank. She was the daughter of an actor, a class that has no legal status. Thus, her death is a non-crime and will not be investigated by the authorities. But her father, Hiro’s long lost uncle and a fellow undercover trained shinobi assassin, will kill the young man in retaliation unless the real murderer is found.

The only clue to the murder is a gold coin attached to the leather strap used to kill her. Hiro and Father Mateo begin to ask questions, only to find themselves on a collision course with local authorities.

The Ninja’s Daughter is the fourth in the absorbing and beautifully researched Hiro Hattori series and the cracks in imperial Japan are beginning to show. Japan’s emperor has yet to name a new shogun to rule Kyoto. A ruthless warlord has taken advantage of the power vacuum. Everyone must choose sides and the priest’s life is threatened.

Yet Japanese life is full of serenity and complex rules. Spann gives us tremendous authenticity; the meaning behind the depth and duration of bows, the style and decoration of kimonos, and an understanding of traditional Japanese theater, complete with valuable masks and acting troupe protocol.

While the murder is solved and justice meted out in the traditional way, imperial political uncertainties mean Hiro and Father Mateo are left standing on shifting ground—yet poised for the next gripping instalment.

Spann delivers again in Betrayal at IGA, the fifth Hiro Hattori mystery. It begins with a one-two punch. Don’t expect to catch your breath afterwards.

Trained shinobi assassin Hiro has led Father Mateo from danger in Kyoto to the relative safety of Hiro’s clan of trained assassins in Iga. Hiro’s cousin Hanzō is the clan’s hereditary and enigmatic leader. Hanzō’s head bodyguard is Neko, the woman Hiro once loved. Years ago, Neko intentionally injured Hiro as he stood on the brink of becoming Iga’s best assassin. Now he regards her with a mix of suspicion and stoic longing.

Hiro and Father Mateo join Hanzō as the latter hosts a delegation from rival shinobi clan Koga to discuss an alliance. Together, the two clans might survive the political upheaval looming on imperial Japan’s horizon. When the leader of the Kogo delegation convulses and dies at the dinner table, everyone there, including Neko and Hiro’s mother Midori, are suspected of poisoning him. The remaining Koga delegates demand that Father Mateo, as an impartial foreigner, investigate and find the murderer within three days.

Spann skillfully navigates us through a large cast and new setting with multiple pivotal locations, as well as Hiro’s hidden emotional landscape. As the investigation goes on, tensions between Iga and Koga escalate. The flashpoint is coming; daggers and katana swords are drawn, Hiro and Neko grapple, and when it finally happens, the book’s title takes on more than one meaning. Treachery is everywhere. There is no escape from imperial Japan’s own convulsions.

The descriptions in Betrayal at IGA have an autumnal flair; Hiro and Father Mateo need heavier kimonos in the cool north, frost sparkles in the morning, and maple leaves turn the forest around Iga crimson. Cedar and pine scent the air.

Japan has never been this lovely, this dangerous, or this exciting.

About the reviewer: Carmen Amato writes mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco and optioned for television. Emilia Cruz is the first female detective on the Acapulco police force, confronting Mexico’s drug cartels and legendary government corruption. Originally from New York, Carmen was educated there as well as in Virginia and Paris, France, while her experiences in Mexico and Central America inspire many of her books. Visit her website at carmenamato.net to get a free copy of the Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.