June, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori receives a pre-dawn visit from Kazu, a fellow shinobi working undercover at the shogunate. Hours before, the shogun''s cousin, Saburo, was stabbed to death in the shogun's palace. The murder weapon: Kazu's personal dagger. Kazu says he's innocent, and begs for Hiro's help, but his story gives Hiro reason to doubt the young shinobi's claims.
When the shogun summons Hiro and Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit priest under Hiro's protection, to find the killer, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between friendship and personal honor.
The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the shogun and overthrow the ruling Ashikaga clan. With Lord Oda's enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro must use his assassin's skills to reveal the killer's identity and protect the shogun at any cost. Kazu, now trapped in the city, still refuses to explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder. But a suspicious shogunate maid, Saburo's wife, and the shogun's stable master also had reasons to want Saburo dead. With the shogun demanding the murderer's head before Lord Oda reaches the city, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time . . . or die in his place.
Susan Spann's Blade of the Samurai is a complex mystery that will transport readers to a thrilling and unforgettable adventure in sixteenth-century Japan.
About the Author
SUSAN SPANN is a transactional attorney focusing on publishing law and a former law school professor. She has a deep interest in Asian culture and has studied Mandarin and Japanese. Her hobbies include Asian cooking, fencing, knife and shuriken throwing, traditional archery, martial arts, rock climbing, and horseback riding. Susan keeps a marine aquarium where she raises seahorses and rare corals. Spann is a member of the Historical Novel Society and is the author of Claws of the Cat. She lives in northern California with her family.
Read an Excerpt
Hiro opened his eyes in darkness.
Night enveloped the room like a shroud, broken only by the beam of moonlight streaming through the open veranda door. The still air and the moonbeam’s angle told Hiro that dawn was still an hour away.
In most Kyoto houses an open shoji represented a dangerous oversight. For Hiro, a shinobi assassin turned bodyguard, the door was an early warning system that had just paid off.
He strained his ears, listening for the sound that woke him. He heard only silence.
A weight shifted atop Hiro’s feet as his kitten, Gato, twitched in her sleep. The shinobi found that reassuring. Gato’s ears were sharper than his own, and the cat never slept through sounds she didn’t recognize.
Hiro yawned and closed his eyes to weigh the merits of early-morning exercise against two more hours of sleep.
A board creaked outside the veranda door.
Hiro’s eyes flashed open. The kitten raised her head, ears pricked toward the sound.
The loose board sat between Hiro’s door and the one to the adjacent room, where Father Mateo slept. The Jesuit had wanted to fix the squeaky timber, but Hiro insisted the board stay loose to help the shinobi protect his Portuguese charge.
Hiro slipped out from beneath his quilt and pulled on a pair of baggy trousers. As he tied the ankle straps to keep his cuffs from tangling in a fight, he listened for the second creak that would tell him when the intruder stepped off the board.
He heard nothing.
A surge of adrenaline loosened Hiro’s muscles. Only another shinobi could move with sufficient stealth to prevent the board from creaking a second time.
He wasted no time wondering why an assassin had come. Hiro’s clan, the Iga ryu, had ordered him to defend the Jesuit’s life at any cost, and Hiro would not allow himself to fail. He grabbed a dagger from his desk and scurried up the built-in shelves on the southern wall of the room. He was glad he had reinforced them to hold his weight.
The wall ended at rafter height, leaving plenty of space for a man to crouch beneath the peaked thatch roof. Hiro crawled onto the nearest rafter and glanced over the wall into Father Mateo’s room. The Jesuit slept soundly.
A shadow blotted out the moonlight as a human form appeared in Hiro’s doorway. The intruder paused only a moment, then stepped inside.
Gato arched her back and hissed before vanishing into the shadows.
The assassin wore a cowl that hid his face. He moved across the floor with an inward twist of the toes that Hiro recognized as a hallmark of the Iga ryu.
This killer had not come for the Portuguese priest.
Hiro gripped his dagger and readied himself to jump. As he drew a final, preparatory breath he caught the faint but unmistakable scent of expensive wintergreen hair oil.
Betrayal seared through Hiro’s mind like flame. Only one Iga shinobi used that scent, and until this moment Hiro had considered the man a brother.
Plunging a knife into Kazu’s heart would hurt Hiro almost as much as suicide.
Almost, but not quite.
Hiro leaped from the beam as, below him, Kazu whispered, “Hiro? I need your help.”
It was too late to arrest the fall. Hiro flung his arm to the side to stop the knife from striking a fatal blow.
Kazu jumped away, stumbled, and pitched forward onto the futon.
Hiro landed in a silent crouch, knife ready. He would give Kazu a chance to explain, but didn’t let down his guard.
Kazu raised his empty hands. “Hiro, wait! It’s me.”
“I almost killed you,” Hiro hissed. “What were you thinking, coming here unannounced and at this hour?”
Kazu pushed his cowl back onto his shoulders. His worried eyes reflected the moonlight.
“There’s been a murder at the shogunate.”
“The shogun?” Hiro’s expression softened as he realized why Kazu had taken the risk.
Shogun Ashikaga supported the Jesuits’ presence in Kyoto, despite his opponents’ demands that he expel the Portuguese missionaries or execute them as spies. The shogun’s death would threaten both Father Mateo’s life and Hiro’s assignment to protect the priest.
“Not the shogun,” Kazu whispered, “his cousin, Saburo.”
“Your supervisor?” Hiro’s gratitude splintered into anger. He barely managed to keep his voice a whisper. “Have you lost your senses? You risk exposing us both by coming here.”
“Please.” The catch in Kazu’s voice reminded Hiro that Kazu had only twenty years to Hiro’s twenty-five, and although the younger shinobi had come to Kyoto first, Hiro had been an assassin for years before Kazu even received his first official orders—an assignment to spy within the Ashikaga shogunate.
“Someone murdered Saburo with my dagger,” Kazu continued. “The shogun will think I killed him.”
“That doesn’t excuse your acting like a fool.” Hiro inhaled slowly to calm his fury. It didn’t work. “Have you forgotten your training completely? If something compromises your cover, you leave Kyoto. Even a novice knows not to put others at risk.”
“I’m sorry.” Remorse flooded Kazu’s voice. “I panicked.”
“Why come here?” Hiro asked. “Why not run?”
“I couldn’t leave the city. No one passes the outer barricades at night without a travel pass and a good excuse.” Kazu raised his hands, palms up. “I don’t have either.”
Kazu’s fear didn’t soothe Hiro’s anger. Still, the damage was done, and further scolding would not undo it. The shinobi code required Hiro to help a clansman in need unless doing so would compromise his mission. Since Kazu’s arrest might expose both men as shinobi, the choice seemed clear.
“Are you sure no one followed you?” Hiro asked.
“Then tell me what happened, in detail—but first, get off my futon.”
Copyright © 2014 by Susan Spann
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you’ve read “Claws of the Cat,” those characters you’ve come to love – the pragmatic Hiro, the moral and courageous Father Mateo, grumpy but good-hearted Ana, dashing Kazu, obnoxious Luis, and even the furball of energy Gato – are back. And if you’ve not read “Claws,” this novel still works as a stand-alone story. Again, Susan Spann has written a superb tale where “just one more chapter” turns into three, and it was with reluctance that I placed the book back on the nightstand to get some sleep. If you like unusual heroes and unusual settings, you will enjoy this book. Medieval Japan feels exotic, but the reader won’t feel lost. Ms. Spann does a good job of providing the context, and in case you forget, there is a glossary. Father Mateo’s social blunders (and Hiro’s frustration with them) help the reader understand the society and provide some comic relief. Even with the humor, this a novel with plenty of tension and high stakes. Can Hiro stop the plot against the shogun, who holds the true power in Japan? In the rush to convict someone – anyone – will an innocent person be killed? Will Hiro’s relationship with Kazu ever be the same, especially when he doubts the younger man’s innocence? This tale has twists and turns, and you’re not sure whom to believe. The ending also is a surprise. I’m looking forward to my favorite shinobi’s further adventure in Ms. Spann’s next book. In the meantime, I highly recommend her first two.
Hiro is a shinobi assassin turned bodyguard. He stands vigil over the Jesuit, Father Mateo who is a Christian newcomer to Japan. When Hiro’s best friend, Kazu is accused of murdering his supervisor, Hiro is plagued by doubts and fears. Though this character was hard for me to connect with, his fears surrounding his friend were strong and you knew this would be a betrayal that would penetrate deep. This book is a regular Agatha Christie, but set in Japan. I really liked the detail that went into the historical accuracy of the book. Father Mateo was probably my favourite for his lively personality and subtle intelligence that often takes Hiro off guard. The mystery was woven quite well, turning truth into lies and lies into truth to combat the main character’s reasonings. There are hints to the first book in the series (I haven’t read it), but I didn’t need to to understand what was going on.