Autumn, 1565: After fleeing Kyoto, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo take refuge with Hiro’s ninja clan in the mountains of Iga province. But when an ambassador from the rival Koga clan is murdered during peace negotiations, Hiro and Father Mateo must find the killer in time to prevent a war between the ninja clans. With every suspect a trained assassin, and the evidence incriminating not only Hiro’s commander, the infamous ninja Hattori Hanzo, but also Hiro’s mother and his former lover, the detectives must struggle to find the truth in a village where deceit is a cultivated art. As tensions rise, the killer strikes again, and Hiro finds himself forced to choose between his family and his honor.
About the Author
Susan Spann is the 2015 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Writer of the Year and the author of four previous novels in the Shinobi Mystery series: Claws of the Cat, Blade of the Samurai, Flask of the Drunken Master, and The Ninja's Daughter. She has a degree in Asian Studies and a lifelong love of Japanese history and culture. When not writing, she works as a transactional attorney focusing on publishing and business law, and raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.
Read an Excerpt
Betrayal at Iga
A Hiro Hattori Novel
By Susan Spann
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2017 Susan Spann
All rights reserved.
Hiro Hattori leaned into the wind that swept down the hill and across his face. He pulled his kimono tighter and glanced at the Portuguese priest beside him. "Remember, you must eat everything set before you —"
"— because leaving food on the plate offends the host." Father Mateo smiled. "I have attended Japanese feasts before."
"Not like this one." The words came out more sharply than intended.
Father Mateo stopped short. "You're nervous."
"And you should be." Hiro faced the Jesuit. "This is not a 'welcome the foreigner' feast in Kyoto, with samurai willing to overlook a stranger's breach of etiquette."
The sun had dropped below the horizon, filling the air with the chill of mountain twilight. Hiro gestured toward the top of the hill. "That house belongs to Hattori Hanzo, leader of the Iga ryu. Everyone inside is a trained assassin, half of them visitors from Koga and thus not under Iga's control. If you can think of a less advisable place to cause offense, feel free to enlighten me."
"But ... isn't Hanzo your cousin?"
Hiro frowned. "That fact will not protect you."
Father Mateo looked concerned. "If attending is truly so dangerous, why didn't you try to prevent me from accepting the invitation?"
"Would you have listened?"
"No," the priest admitted.
Hiro shrugged. "That answers your question."
"It never stopped you before."
Hiro ignored the comment and continued up the hill.
Father Mateo fell in step beside him. "I've wanted to meet Hattori Hanzo from the moment I learned he sent you to protect me, back in Kyoto."
"The client who hired the Iga ryu to guard you is responsible for your protection," Hiro corrected. "Hanzo merely chose me for the job."
Father Mateo smiled. "Do you realize fear makes you peevish?"
"I am not frightened," Hiro snapped. "I'm focused."
"Either way, you're peevish."
They rounded a curve, and Hiro shivered as the wind rustled through the leaves of the pines and colorful maples that crowded against the earthen path. His favorite gray kimono wasn't warm enough to block the autumn chill.
"Why did Hanzo invite me tonight?" the Jesuit asked. "I know he wanted you to keep an eye on the Koga emissaries, but I'm not part of the peace negotiations."
"The commander of the Iga ryu has an obligation to welcome every guest who arrives in the village. Important guests must also be given a feast on the night they arrive."
"So the Koga shinobi arrived today as well?"
Hiro nodded. "Unfortunately, they did not reveal their arrival date in advance, placing Hanzo in the awkward position of needing to welcome multiple guests on a single ..."
He trailed off as he realized the priest was no longer beside him. Father Mateo stood on the path staring up at Hanzo's mansion, which had finally come entirely into view.
Solid walls of earth and stone rose ten feet high around the compound, giving it the appearance of a fortress. Black-glazed tiles topped the walls and arched across the massive wooden gates that marked the entrance. Beyond them, the mansion's sloping roof rose up like the back of a sleeping dragon.
"It looks like the shogun's palace." Father Mateo was awestruck.
"A reminder to all that Hattori Hanzo is more than a village chieftain. Hurry up, we can't be late."
"Shouldn't there be someone here to greet us?" the Jesuit asked as they passed between the gates and entered the courtyard. "Guards, or someone?"
"In peacetime, Hanzo needs no guards." Hiro looked around. "I would have expected some tonight, with Koga emissaries in the village. Apparently, Hanzo believed them unnecessary."
As he crossed the yard with Father Mateo, Hiro observed how barren the compound seemed, compared with Kyoto's samurai mansions. No Buddhist statuary or flowing koi ponds filled the space. A Zen dry garden in the corner offered an interesting view, but only to those whose eyes were trained to understand its austere beauty.
Carved stone lanterns stood on either side of the wooden steps leading up to the covered veranda that surrounded Hanzo's home. In the gathering darkness, their flickering light illuminated a row of crimson maples, dwarfed by pruning to prevent intruders from using them to scale the roof. The maple leaves glowed like coals, surrounding the house with living flame.
The mansion's roof soared high overhead, with finials carved in the shape of tigers. Twilight hid the details, but Hiro remembered them all too well.
He passed the lanterns and stepped onto the porch, frowning at the line of sandals sitting by the door. "The Koga delegation has arrived, which makes us late."
The heavy, wooden door swung open, revealing an ancient, wizened woman barely as tall as Hiro's chest. Wrinkles obscured her features, and her ears resembled apricot slices left in the sun too long. Golden hairpins glimmered in the coil of snow-white hair atop her head, while embroidered autumn leaves flowed down the side of her silk kimono, shimmering in brilliant shades of scarlet, gold, and orange.
The wrinkles around her mouth drew back, revealing a set of shockingly healthy teeth.
She did not bow, but Hiro did, more deeply and with more respect than Father Mateo had ever seen him show. As Hiro straightened, the priest made a slow, equally respectful bow.
The woman's smile grew. "Welcome home, Hiro-kun."
Father Mateo looked at Hiro, surprised by the ancient woman's use of the diminutive.
"Thank you, it is nice to be back." Hiro gestured to the priest. "May I introduce Father Mateo Avila de Santos, a priest of the foreign god, from Portugal."
The woman nodded.
Addressing the Jesuit, Hiro added, "My grandmother, Hattori Akiko."
Father Mateo bowed again.
"You are late, Hiro-kun," Akiko warned. "The meal is ready. Everyone is waiting."
"Is that why you answered the door?" Hiro asked.
She shrugged, and her formality fell away. "Hanzo sent his wife into the mountains, with their infant son." She dropped her voice to a whisper. "Betraying his assertion that he trusts the Koga, and needs no guards, because the delegation comes in peace."
"He didn't send you to the mountains ?" Hiro asked.
Akiko made a dismissive gesture. "I refused to go. I'm old. Nobody wants to hurt me, and if they tried, I wouldn't care. It's been too long since I had a decent fight."
She stepped away from the door. "Follow me, and hurry. You know how Hanzo-kun dislikes delays."
Almost as much as he hates the nickname "Hanzo-kun," Hiro thought as he left his sandals by the door. A wave of discomfort washed over him as he followed Akiko into the house. The last time he had seen his cousin Hanzo, things had not gone well.
Behind him, Father Mateo whispered, "She's your grandmother?" The Jesuit spoke in Portuguese, so Hiro replied in kind. "Yes, and don't be fooled by her innocent act. She has killed a man with nothing but a chopstick."
Excerpted from Betrayal at Iga by Susan Spann. Copyright © 2017 Susan Spann. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
One of the most delightful private eye duos is back! I know it’s only been a year since their last appearance but it seemed like eons because I love them so much. Hiro and Father Mateo are a most unusual pair, this Japanese shinobi and Portuguese priest that are linked together by contract. Hiro was assigned the task of protecting the Jesuit from all the dangers that can befall a foreigner in the midst of feudal Japan and he has done so with honor and careful attention to the things that could get Father Mateo in trouble. A very large pitfall is the culture and societal demands of this world of shoguns and samurais and Hiro is particularly concerned that the priest understand how to behave as they approach Iga, Hiro’s home. It’s Father Mateo’s first visit and Hiro himself hasn’t been home in some time. Adding to the potential problem is the enormous tension that’s palpable in the feasting room when they arrive slightly late. A group of delegates from the Koga clan has come, supposedly to seek common ground with the Hattori clan to prevent war but at least one in the visiting group is overtly hostile and suspicious. Fuyu’s attitude of extreme distrust seems warranted when another member of his clan falls over, clearly dying from poison moments after beginning the feast. In what is essentially a locked room mystery, in this case a locked compound, Fuyu immediately accuses the Hattori clan of murder and hostilities escalate until this room full of trained assassins are all prepared to kill each other. Hattori Hanzo, host and commander, suggests that Hiro and Father Mateo be appointed to solve the crime and bring the killer to justice but they have only three days to do so. The prime suspect? Midori, the woman who prepared the feast, Hiro’s mother. This entry in the series is my favorite so far for a lot of reasons. Emotions run high, the tension is at breaking point and the pressure on Father Mateo and Hiro has never been so intense but we also get a good look at Hiro’s background and family, the forces that made him who he is. Family and an old love are at the core of the story and the closed community of medieval Japan is immensely interesting but, as always with this pair, the investigation is enlightening in many ways, especially considering the lack of modern-day crime solving forensics. The intriguing 16th-century setting and Ms. Spann’s knowledge of the era and place are the icing on the cake for this addition to my list of best books read in 2017.
"She has killed a man with nothing but a chopstick." As soon as I read that line, I knew I was in for an enjoyable read. I flew through this book but savored it at the same time. The undercurrent of humor in this book is gold, and at times, would make me laugh out loud. Father Mateo must be thinking this is the strangest dinner party he's ever attended. It reminded me of the movie Clue, but in a larger than life scale, in 16th Century Japan. (I loved Clue). A Japanese grandmother assassin who speaks fluent Portuguese for the win! The touching friendship between Hiro, Father Mateo and Anna as well as the subtle love story bring so much depth to this mystery. These characters have become so real to me it's like they have been painted into history. I love the way it ended. Can't wait for book #6!
Hiro Hattori has a problem: he needs to find the murderer of an important guest ASAP. But the suspects are all people he doesn't want to give up. Like his mother. Or his ex-lover. As time runs out, what is he going to do? "Betrayal at Iga" is set in 16th-century Japan, and is full of period detail--I am not qualified to say how accurate the period detail actually is, but it certainly felt convincing to me, and some quick Wikipediaing showed there was all kinds of historical backstory to the novel--but it reads more like a classic murder mystery than a historical novel. The plot is tightly constructed, with plenty of the kinds of red herrings, suspense-building tactics, and of course the surprise twist at the end, that you'd expect from a classic British mystery book. It's a cliche of the genre, but it's well-done and effective, making the book a light but entertaining read. This is the fifth book in the series, but the first I had read, and so there was some backstory that I didn't know, but the book still worked well as a standalone read, and I was able to gather all the information that I needed to follow along. I suspect that fans of heavy historical fiction will find it a little on the slender side, and the characters are, not 2-dimensional, but secondary to the twists and turns of the plot, but it's full of fun historical Easter eggs and satisfying reveals of secrets and surprises. Certainly something that readers looking for an entertaining mystery series, especially with an unusual, non-Western setting, are likely to enjoy. My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
In medieval Japan, Hiro Hattori, the master ninja, and Father Mateo, the Jesuit and Portuguese priest are about to work together on a sensitive case. Father Mateo has been hired by a very important samurai lord, from the same ninja clan as Hiro, to protect Hattori. They travel together into the lands of that samurai lord and are invited to a welcome dinner. During that dinner, there is obvious enmity between the members of a rival Koga clan and Hattori Hanzo. Chaos erupts when one of the guests begins to get ill, quickly moves in seizures and dies after eating some of the lavish food they have been served. The atmosphere quickly becomes lethal and is slightly quashed when Hiro Hattori is given a few days to solve the mystery of the poisoner. The reader will become well-acquainted with the customs and rivalries of this 16th Century Japanese town. It is the era of the Shogunate and the competition is rife for this position, a never-ending war in a way as gaining the title of Shogun is no guarantee that one can hold onto it. The competitors are everywhere, both secular and sacred (Buddhist monasteries among the rivals). It gets to the point where even family must be watched as suspicious contenders for the prize and no measure is deemed prohibited to effect victory. Hiro Hattori and Father Mateo question the members of the Koga clan, Hiro’s own mother, a former lover and many more possible suspects. The Koga clan were to discuss and form a peace agreement immediately after that dinner, but the chances of that happening are slim indeed! Susan Spann has once again penned a captivating mystery, adventure story, and historical novel that keeps the reader captivated and guessing every step of the convoluted way to the bitter and surprising end! Recommended for all fans of mysteries and Japanese samurai fiction!