Review: Claws of the Cat
Sunday, December 27, 2020

Claws of the Cat (Shinobi Mystery, #1)Claws of the Cat by Susan Spann
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Claws of the Cat was a fun "who done it" mystery. This was very much the type of story where the protagonist, and by extension the reader, follows a trail of breadcrumb clues that lead back and forth between suspects in an intricately woven web of lies and secrets. I did not at any time feel like the solution was obvious, and while I sometimes got annoyed that the protagonist came to a realization that wasn't revealed until the next encounter, I never felt lost.

The main character in this story is a shinobi/samurai named Hiro who serves as a bodyguard and translator for a Portuguese priest doing missionary work in ancient Kyoto. This in itself lends a measure of conflict to the story, because during this time period foreigners were not allowed in Japan except by special permission, so they were quite rare. As such, Father Mateo and Hiro stood out wherever they went. However, the fact that the priest was a foreigner allowed him to ask questions and receive answers that would have been totally inappropriate for a member of polite Japanese society. Father Mateo also acts as a catalyst because it is his ignorant intervention that places his life, and by extension Hiro's mission/honor/life, on the line.

There is not a great deal revealed about Hiro other than that he is a trained shinobi posing as a samurai bodyguard, yet there is enough depth to his character and hints at backstory that he seems well-rounded and real. I would like to read more about him, which is all you can ask for from a character.

The world-building in this story was spot on and totally immersive. As someone who's done some research on Japanese culture, I was thrilled by all the details Span used to really ground the reader in historic Japan. The writing style was beautifully descriptive, and paired perfectly with the story's atmosphere. This phrase for example: "Discomfort flowed through the social strata like water running down a hill." shows both a wonderful turn of phrase, describes the current situation, and gives insight to the hierarchical social structure.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable read and well-woven mystery.

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