+Book Review+ Claws of the Cat (Book 1 of the Shinobi Mystery series) by Susan Spann

Posted Thursday, 21 August, 2014 by jorielov , , , , , , , , , , , , 1 Comment

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Claws of the Cat by Susan Spann

Claws of the Cat by Susan Spann

Published By: Minotaur Books (@MinotaurBooks),
(a Thomas Donne book) 16th July, 2013

imprints of St. Martin’s Publishing Group,
which is now a part of MacMillian Publishers

Official Author Websites: Site | @SusanSpann | Blog
Available Formats: Hardcover & Ebook Page Count: 288

Genre(s): Cosy Mystery | Suspense | Japanese Fiction | Martial Art History

Converse via: #ShinobiMystery OR #ShinobiMysteries

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Acquired Book By:

I was selected to be a tour stop on the “Blade of the Samurai” virtual book tour through TLC Book Tours. I opted to receive the first novel of the Shinobi mystery series to formulate a better impression about where the series began and where the series is continuing in this sequel. I received a complimentary hardback copy of the “Blade of the Samurai” direct from the author Susan Spann, in exchange for an honest review. However, I received a complimentary hardback copy of “Claws of the Cat” without obligation to post a review or comment on its behalf. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein on either novel. I elected to post this review for my own edification as much as my enjoyment for the introduction to a new series I will be in full support of watching grow through successive installments!

Inspired to Read:

I personally always have a preference of reading serial fiction in ‘order’ of the established series, and I can go to great lengths to sort out the order of series too! This is especially true for the Elm Creek series (by Jennifer Chiaverini) and the Aunt Dimity series (by Nancy Atherton)! When I first started to research this novel going on tour this Summer (referencing Blade), I discovered that it is the type of series where you could ‘side step’ from the opening bits of the series, but I had feeling you’d miss quite a heap in doing so! Therefore, I was instantly inspired to read Claws ahead of Blade, and thus took up the offer to receive Claws with Blade for the tour! I simply love having a good footing into the momentum of how the key characters interact, what motivates them, and how the series expands by relieving more of their internal natures as much as a clue into their outward lives outside of their investigations (especially for cosies!).

On my connection to Ms. Spann:

I started visiting the chats hosted by @LitChat in the latter months of 2013, as it was around the time of the conference at The Betsy in which I started to cross paths with regular chatters, amongst whom were Natalia Sylvester (début novelist of “Chasing the Sun”) and Susan Spann. I am unsure which month I first started to notice Ms. Spann as a friendly presence who always reminded me of myself — someone who provided cheerful commentary, engaging questions for each visiting guest author, and a wicked knowledge base on a variety of topics. Generally speaking, I always click-over to read a person’s Twitter profile, but whilst engaged in those #LitChat(s) I felt like it was this magical rendezvous for the bookish and those who are attuned to bookish culture. In this way, it wasn’t until I learnt of Blade of the Samurai was going on tour through TLC Book Tours (the touring company I am hosting for this Interview & my forthcoming book review) I had decided to discover a bit more about her! In so doing, I learnt who she was ‘behind the curtain’ so to speak! I always considered her one of my ‘friends in the twitterverse’ but I never disclosed this to her until I was on the blog tour! Such serendipity as the tour has brought us a bit closer and I am grateful that Twitter is a social-positive method of reaching past our distances in geography to connect to people who share a passion for the written word.

I am disclosing this, to assure you that I can formulate an honest opinion, even though I have interacted with Spann through our respective love & passion of reading inside the twitterverse whilst attending #LitChat; I treat each book as a ‘new experience’, whether I personally know the author OR whether I am reading a book by them for the first time.

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Book Synopsis:

May 1564: When a samurai is brutally murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, master ninja Hiro Hattori has just three days to find the killer before the dead man’s vengeful son kills both the beautiful geisha accused of the crime and Father Mateo, the Jesuit priest that Hiro has pledged his own life to protect. The investigation plunges Hiro and Father Susan SpannMateo into the dangerous waters of Kyoto’s floating world, where they quickly learn that everyone from an elusive teahouse owner to the dead man’s dishonored brother has a motive to keep the samurai’s death a mystery.

Author Biography:

Susan 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 début 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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The cultural aspects of the story | hidden sub-layers to the narrative:

Spann has a way of integrating cultural references into the undercurrent of her narrative, giving the experience of soaking into her suspenseful mystery series a pure delight to any reader who likes to learn about cultures outside of their own. In this début novel, where the heart of the series lies in Hiro and Father Mateo’s presence in a place where outside influences on religious grounds is not taken lightly; these two men not only forged a friendship with each other but they form a friendship with the reader. Although there are only a few Japanese words inserted into the context of the novel itself, there are symbols to designate a new paragraph or a spilt between two different sequences. Spann also acknowledged when the use of either Portuguese or Japanese dialect were better of being used per each person they spoke to on their journey.

The subtle mention of the type of clothing different men would way to signify to each other their rank and of their position in their field of service gave a touch of authenticity. I had to simply smile when I read about miso soup served with tofu cubes inside, as my personal preference for miso soup is actually miso, daikon radish, and scallions. She has an intricate knowledge to share about weaponry giving a light on the tools of the trade for the Shinobi. I especially enjoyed the history and usage of the ‘claws’ for which the title implies a strong connection to the central plot of discovery!

Each of the little hidden sub-layers stitched into the narrative through the cultural traditions of the Japanese, gave me a proper sense of ‘time’, ‘setting’, and ‘place’ as I felt as though I was walking alongside Hiro or Father Mateo. This is important, as the 16th Century is quite a throw backwards in time, without the benefit of having living relatives and/or known history to fall back on as a method of connection. Spann even included little bobbles of cognitive thinking, showing how Hiro would want to avoid a mis-step in his deduction if he applied the logic of a piece of ancient wisdom. These are the kind of little moments I always cherish to find in a historical piece of fiction.

My Review of Claws of the Cat:

The best opening sequence to illustrate a close friendship between two diverse cultural backgrounds is placing two characters in a cheeky exchange of a game of cat and mouse; which is how we are introduced to Hiro and Father Mateo! Hiro is a proud ‘shinobi‘ whereas Mateo is a proud Priest; they each adhere not only to their convictions of their religious and cultural backgrounds, but they are two men of devout honour intermixed with a sense of duty that defies the logic of their age. Father Mateo is a humble man of God, who has chosen to serve in Japan (originally from Portugal), with his limited understanding of the language but his great concern on the spiritual lives of those who accept his guidance through his beliefs in Christianity. Hiro on the other hand, is shaped by his roots as a shinobi assassin, whose code of conduct and of respect goes past spirituality and more into the honour generally befit a warrior. Each of them tries the patience of the other, but it is who they are at the root of their core which endears their friendship the most. Hiro instantly comes across as a man betwixt his own traditions and in full acceptance of Mateo’s; untoward feeling if a day approached where he would have to sacrifice his life for Mateo’s, he would not hesitate.

The crime itself is a brutal killing of a man, who was murdered inside of a teahouse where one of the students of Father Mateo lives and works. This brought Father Mateo into a culture that has its own way of looking at things (as there is a code of honour & ethic allowing a vengeance killing to avenge a deceased loved one), forcing his hand to intercede on a young girl and placing himself in extreme danger as he did so. Watching Hiro’s reaction to the actions of his friend gave the impression that their friendship is both complicated and respectful of differing opinions.

A cover-up of a murder can always be more suspicious the further the truth extends from the visual (or physical) evidence. As Hiro had explained his own thoughts on the murder scene, I had started to gather my own. I loved learning more about the teahouses during the 16th Century, as they were very reminiscent of their counterparts in Victorian London; worlds which exist on their own clock, in their own way, and are closed to the outside world nearly completely except for certain compliances to when the world is left on their doorstep.

The working theory of this unusual duo of investigators, is that someone wanted to elicit a war to take over the coveted shogunate position which in of itself gave control over the military; yet the person in this position had to yield to the emperor who was still in a higher level of power. The cause and effect of the murder started to take on a political motive when new facts were starting to arise as Hiro and Father Mateo dug further into the witnesses who gave accounts of what they knew. I enjoyed watching Hiro observe each person they questioned, seeking clues given away through the lost art of reading body language in combination with spoken responses to enquiries. His keen observation skills warranted his partnership with Father Mateo who was more oft to speak out of haste rather than out of pensivity.

Oh! Mid-way through I sorted out of whom Hiro kept reminding me of,… do you ever strive to remember something on the very tip of your memory? This is what I was attempting to do each time Hiro would be reflected as raising his brow and/or showing a similar small response to something Mateo was saying to him. A lightbulb finally glowed quite bright: Spock! He reminds me of the logical thinking of Spock (from Star Trek: the Original Series!) and how his exchanges of theory verse thought did not always align or sympathise with Mateo! Hiro was oft-times in awe of Mateo, for not only proving he was not as unaware as others would tend to believe, but for his courage in seeking out a hidden clue Hiro himself might have missed the thread to follow!

I could not stop reading Claws of the Cat once I found myself inside this beautiful world of Feudal Japan! I simply devoured the story, daring my eyes to read further and faster, yet wanting to take a pause to allow the scenery and the words to sink in to my conscience. This is a story of honour as much as it is a story of supposition without the ability to see past a suspicion. The fact that there is a cheeky and beloved cat, er, kitten in the household of where Father Mateo and Hiro keep their residence gave me an added joy! The very, very last scene of the novel left me in a happy smile as even though I do not understand Portuguese I recognised a ‘cognate’ of Spanish! The humour of that reply was not lost on my eyes! I love the pace of the novel, because Claws is set to have an expanse of time envelope the community, giving you the chance to know the layout and the rituals of their beliefs. There is a clever balance between Japanese spirituality, Zen Buddhism, Christianity, and a few others in-between all three. I love writers who find a way to etch a spiritual presence as part of the make-up of a character’s mind. If you appreciate crime fiction that allows you to work through the muddling puzzle as it starts to unravell and thread through the needling of proof – you will find Claws of the Cat most enjoyable to read!

I shall be spending Friday consuming “Blade of the Samurai”!

Susan Spann has a writing style which keys you into the moment of the hour:

Spann has a saying on her website “Spann of Time”, and to me, ever since I first read that on her site, I felt as though she was giving a clue as to the type of woman and writer she truly is! Her rapt fascination with Japan and the historical lore around the shinobi is clearly evident in how she writes on their behalf as though you could knock on their door, request an audience over tea, and jot down notes of their lives. The absence of strong language is a personal celebration for me, because I was ever so blessed to have found not one word out of place nor offensive in this entire story! I was nearly beginning to think I was the ancient one in today’s market for cosy mysteries as too oft I am finding myself that ‘strong language’ is more the norm than the quirk! How blessed then, to soak inside this story in full absorption of its merits and simply wander off into the labyrinth neighbourhoods of Kyoto, Japan!

If I had had the time, I would have made myself a fat pot of fresh brewed tea, left a cuppa on my heart mug rug and drunk in the aromatherapy of the herbal tea as my eyes drank in the words!

Note: On the murder itself (by description and of the condition the body is found): Generally speaking, I have the tendency to read more Cosies than Hard-Boiled mysteries, but on certain rare occasions I find myself keenly fascinated and intrigued by a suspenseful crime narrative that becomes what I personally refer to as: a hard-boiled this side of a cosy! Specifically due to the fact the murder might be bludgeonedly brutal and the deceased if left ravaged by a passionate killer. There are a few authors I like who fall under this measure of a mark for mysteries and they are as follows: Cleo Coyle (for the Coffeehouse mysteries); Heather Graham (for the Ghost Harrison series); Anna Lee Huber (for the Lady Darby series); and now Susan Spann (for the Shinobi mysteries)!

As I will discuss further when I post my review (at long last, yes I know dear hearts!) for “The Anatomist’s Wife”, I discovered this particular penchant for either a medical examiner inquest of a search for a killer OR simply a stronger knitted story-line where the crime takes a back-seat to the expanding investigation into who could have committed the crime to such a degree as how it was discovered. I celebrate each author who pens a story that leaves me wholly outside my own realm for a spell, and dips into the curious nature of criminology, forensic psychology, and the pathological motivations you’d find in a cosy or hard-boiled mystery!

The writers I always list have a preference for on certain instances of inclusion, are the ones who transcend outside the genre I love to read, and weave together story that is not focused on the details of how someone died (although they are given their due on camera so to speak), but rather everything that happens after the crime itself. Pulling you further into the psychosis of how each investigator navigates an investigation and how each person treats the case he or she is working to resolve. Only the crime involved in these kinds of story fit the ‘hard-boiled’ style, whereas the scope of the stories are most definitely ‘cosy’.

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Read an Excerpt of the Novel:

View the Extract on Scribd
for ‘Claws of the Cat’ by Susan Spann

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This blog tour stop was courtesy of TLC Book Tours:

TLC Book Tours | Tour Hostclick-through to follow the blogosphere tour.

Next I shall be reviewing “Blade of the Samurai”!

Earlier I posted an Author Q&A with Susan Spann
in conjunction with this showcase!

Fun Stuff for Your Blog via pureimaginationblog.com

See what I am hosting next:

Bookish Events badge created by Jorie in Canva

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Comments make me smile! Let’s start a conversation! I appreciate your visit & look forward to your return! I do moderate the comment threads; do not worry if the comment is delayed in being seen! Drop back soon!

Reader Interactive Question:

What do you love the most about cosy historical mysteries!? And, did you know that I have found this particular niche of fiction to be one of my favourites of the past year? If you visit my Story Vault and go down the page, you will find the other reviews of stories which alighted in my hands through a blog tour, and have given me such a blessing to discover!

{SOURCES: Cover art of “Claws of the Cat” and the book synopsis were provided by the author Susan Spann and used with permission. The author photograph and the tour badge were all provided by TLC Book Tours and used with permission. Blog Tour badge provided by Parajunkee to give book bloggers definition on their blogs. Bookish Events badge created by Jorie in Canva. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Buy links on Scribd excerpt are not affiliated with Jorie Loves A Story. Book Excerpt was able to be embedded due to codes provided by Scribd. Miso soup clipart inserted through the ClipArt Plug-In via WP for the Open Clip Art Library (OCAL) – all clip art images are in the public domain and are free to use without restrictions.}}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2014.

Related Articles:

Ninja – (en.wikipedia.org)

The ‘live reading’ tweets I shared as I read & reviewed “Claws of the Cat”:

{ favourite & Re-tweet if inspired to share }


About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Thursday, 21 August, 2014 by jorielov in #LitChat, 16th Century, Blog Tour Host, Book | Novel Extract, Book Cover | Notation on Design, Bookish Discussions, Bout of Books, Clever Turns of Phrase, Cosy Mystery, Crime Fiction, Cultural & Religious Traditions, Equality In Literature, Geographically Specific, Green-Minded Publishers, Hard-Boiled Mystery, Historical Fiction, Historical Thriller Suspense, Japan, Japanese Fiction, Martial Arts, Passionate Researcher, Psychological Suspense, Scribd, Suspense, TLC Book Tours, Twitterland & Twitterverse Event, Wordsmiths & Palettes of Sage, World Religions

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One response to “+Book Review+ Claws of the Cat (Book 1 of the Shinobi Mystery series) by Susan Spann

  1. Thank you so much for this lovely review. It makes me so happy when someone enjoys my books!

    I love that you think Hiro sounds a little like Spock! I’m a big fan of Star Trek (the original and also TNG) and Spock was always my favorite (from both series!). I’d never seen the connection before, but now that you mention it I can absolutely see it!

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