Autumn, 1565: When an actor's daughter is murdered on the banks of Kyoto's Kamo River, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo are the victim's only hope for justice.
As political tensions rise in the wake of the shogun's recent death, and rival warlords threaten war, the Kyoto police forbid an investigation of the killing, to keep the peace--but Hiro has a personal connection to the girl, and must avenge her. The secret investigation leads Hiro and Father Mateo deep into the exclusive world of Kyoto's theater guilds, where they quickly learn that nothing, and no one, is as it seems. With only a mysterious golden coin to guide them, the investigators uncover a forbidden love affair, a missing mask, and a dangerous link to corruption within the Kyoto police department that leaves Hiro and Father Mateo running for their lives.
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The Ninja's Daughter
A Hiro Hattori Novel
By Susan Spann
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2016 Susan Spann
All rights reserved.
Knocking echoed through the silent house.
Hattori Hiro sat up in the darkness and pushed his quilt aside. His cat, Gato, tumbled to the floor. She mewed in protest.
Careful footsteps passed the door to Hiro's room. He recognized the pace of Ana, the housekeeper who cooked and cleaned for the Portuguese priest whose home they shared. Her rapid response told Hiro sunrise must be close at hand. Only a person already awake and dressed would reach the door so quickly.
"Hm. Unreasonable hour for visitors." Ana's irritated mutter carried through the walls.
Her footsteps faded into the entry. Moments later, Hiro heard the creak of a door and Ana asking, "What do you want?"
"My name is Jiro," a male voice said. "Please ... I need to see the foreign priest."
Hiro crossed his room and opened the paneled door to hear more clearly. Unexpected visitors brought news, but also threats, and though most people thought him merely a translator, Hiro was also a shinobi — a ninja spy and assassin — hired to protect the priest.
"Return at sunrise," Ana said. "Father Mateo is asleep."
"I beg you," Jiro said, "please let me in. I cannot wait for dawn."
The paneled door beside Hiro's room slid open with a muted rattle.
"It's all right, Ana," Father Mateo called, "please show him in."
Hiro shut his door, slipped on his favorite gray kimono, and wrapped an obi around his waist. He checked the samurai knot atop his head. As he expected, not a hair lay out of place.
Dressed and ready, he entered the common room.
Father Mateo knelt by the hearth, across from the man who called himself Jiro.
The visitor had gangly arms and narrow shoulders that tapered to bony wrists. His skinny hands protruded from his sleeves like twigs from a bank of snow. He wore a fine but faded kimono that seemed to be recently slept in, and his close-cropped hair stuck out at odd angles above a slender face that Hiro recognized at once.
Jiro was the apprentice of a prosperous merchant and moneylender who owned a shop in Kyoto's Sanjo Market. Hiro and Father Mateo had met the youth, and his master, while investigating the murder of a brewer several weeks before.
As he walked to the hearth, Hiro wondered why his investigations returned to haunt him like hungry ghosts. He hadn't come to Kyoto to help the families of murdered strangers, and although he enjoyed the hunt for a killer, it attracted more attention than he liked.
Father Mateo smiled at Jiro. "Good morning. Aren't you Basho's apprentice?"
"Yes, sir." Jiro bowed his head. "I feared you wouldn't remember me. Please, I need your help."
Ana stood near the entrance, watching the youth with a wrinkled frown that made her opinion perfectly clear: no one should bother the Jesuit before dawn and without an appointment.
For once, Hiro agreed with her. Predawn visitors never brought good news. He gave the woman a barely perceptible nod, and her frown deepened into a disapproving scowl. She circled the room along the wall and exited through the door that led to the kitchen.
Gato trotted after her, tail high.
"Has something happened?" Father Mateo asked Jiro.
The young man drew a breath and blurted out, "Last night I killed a girl and left her body by the river."
"The priest does not help murderers," Hiro said. "You need to leave."
"Hiro." Father Mateo raised his scarred right hand.
Hiro bristled at the gesture, even though the Jesuit meant no insult. When distracted or surprised, Father Mateo often forgot the rules of Japanese etiquette.
The priest turned to Jiro. "What help do you think I can offer?"
Jiro ducked his head. "I don't want to die for a crime I didn't commit."
"You just confessed to killing a girl," Hiro said. "Did you do it or not?"
"That's the problem." Jiro looked up. "I don't remember."
Hiro raised an eyebrow. "Either you killed a girl or you didn't. It's not the sort of thing you forget overnight."
The delicate odor of steaming rice wafted into the room. Ana must have started cooking before the visitor arrived. Hiro's stomach growled. Hunger always shortened his temper, but Hiro didn't care. A samurai had no obligation to heed a commoner's plea at all, let alone before the morning meal.
"Tell us everything you remember," Father Mateo said. "Would you like some tea?"
"No, thank you," Jiro said. "I couldn't impose upon your kindness."
Just our sleep and safety, Hiro thought.
"Tell us what happened," Father Mateo said, "and we will help you, if we can."
Hiro didn't argue. There was time enough to send Jiro away when he finished with his tale.
"Last night," Jiro said, "I went for a drink at a sake shop in Pontocho.
I'd never been to one before, but yesterday morning a customer gave me some silver coins for delivering a package." After a pause, he added, "I didn't spend them all on sake."
Hiro loathed the pleasure districts, especially crowded Pontocho, but couldn't fault the boy's attraction to lovely women and cheap sake. Most men found the entertainment quarters irresistible.
"You met a girl in Pontocho?" Father Mateo asked.
Jiro blushed. "I could never afford the girls in Pontocho. I drank three flasks and left the sake shop."
"Three?" Hiro asked. "That seems a lot for a youth your age and size."
"I didn't drink them alone," Jiro said. "I split them with the man who shared my table. Even so, I left the shop almost too drunk to walk.
I didn't realize how much sake a silver coin could buy."
"Is there a girl in this story somewhere?" Hiro asked.
Father Mateo frowned.
Jiro bowed his head. "I'm sorry. I will speak more clearly. I left the teahouse feeling sick, and went to the river to get some air. The guards on the bridge didn't stop me — I think they knew that I was drunk."
"That, or they knew your story would take all night," Hiro muttered.
Father Mateo gave Hiro a look, but Jiro apparently missed the comment.
"South of Shijo Road, I saw a beautiful girl by the river." The young man's voice grew soft with memory. "Moonlight glimmered on her hair and set her skin aglow. She seemed like a dream, but when she turned I recognized her face."
Hiro fought the urge to stifle the youth's romantic fancy. It seemed young Jiro had spent many hours with poems, and far too few with real girls.
"You knew the woman?" Father Mateo asked.
"Her name is Emi," Jiro said. "She lived in a teahouse in Pontocho and worshipped at Chugenji, the little shrine just east of the river at Shijo Road. We met there a couple of weeks ago, and after that I saw her several times."
"The girl is an entertainer?" Father Mateo asked.
"Yes," Jiro said. "That is, she was, but I don't know which house she worked for. She said she didn't want the owner learning we were friends."
"A teahouse owner can bill a man for spending time with an entertainer," Hiro explained to Father Mateo. "Even if they meet outside the teahouse."
Father Mateo nodded and turned to Jiro. "Please continue."
"Emi hated the teahouse," Jiro said. "The owner didn't like her, and the other girls were mean. She planned to escape, but couldn't afford to buy her contract back."
Hiro wondered if the girl had asked the youth for money. Entertainers often spent a lifetime working off the costs of education and room and board. The lucky ones found a wealthy patron or acquired sufficient fame to earn their independence. But for girls with lesser skills and plainer faces, life in a teahouse could, indeed, be cruel.
"Then, last night, Emi said she'd found a way to buy her freedom." Jiro sounded on the verge of tears. "She wouldn't tell me how, or why, but said the teahouse owner had agreed to let her go."
Father Mateo smiled at the boy. "You wanted to marry her, didn't you?"
Jiro's cheeks flushed red. The color went all the way to his ears. "She was a beautiful teahouse girl. I'm ... I didn't know if she would have me."
"So you asked, and she refused, and then you killed her." Hiro hoped the accusation would speed up the narrative.
The color drained from Jiro's face. "No ... at least, that's not the way I remember it. We sat together by the river. She told me about her plans to move to Edo. I felt dizzy from the sake and lay down, in hopes of feeling better.
"Next thing I remember, I woke up and found her dead."
Excerpted from The Ninja's Daughter by Susan Spann. Copyright © 2016 Susan Spann. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Every time I finish walking next to Hiro and Father Mateo, it is bittersweet. I am sad that the journey is over (at least for now), but wow, what a ride. Especially the last 20 pages - they literally cannot be put down. The author's world is so vibrant, I can smell the autumn leaves and taste the udon noodles. Hiro, Father Mateo, Luis, and Ana all have their own fully-developed and strikingly different personalities, which contribute to make this fabulous entourage. The good news is I won't have to wait to read the next installment. Betrayal at Iga here I come. The journey continues! May it never end. (Although I regret the trail of bodies left in their wake). Thanks to the author, for sharing this wonderful world of ninjas, Portuguese priests, and medieval Japan with the readers.
Susan Spann has a talent for writing a page-turning mystery that's so much more. In addition to being a whodunit, "The Ninja's Daughter" addresses matters of justice among social classes and, like her first novel, has a poignancy unusual for most books in this genre. The victim is from social class so low that the police don't think her death is worth the bother, although the cause is obviously not natural. Even if Hiro did not have a his own reasons to investigate, Father Mateo, believing all equal in the eyes of God, cannot let it go. The unstable politics brought on by a recent coup of the shogunate adds another layer to the suspense. Hiro is a trained assassin, but he cares deeply about Mateo and his cat, Gato. Secondary characters Luis and Ana continue to entertain faithful readers of the series and surprise both Hiro and the audience. As with Ms. Spann's other novels, the setting and its culture feel exotic, but the reader is never lost. Plus there is a handy glossary at the end. This novel works well as a stand-alone, but readers of the series will find more elements of the larger story and Hiro's and Mateo's past. Ms. Spann has introduced some intriguing details sure to make their way into future installments, which I look forward to reading.
The daughter of an actor is found murdered by the side of Kyoto’s Kamo River, and a man who “thinks” he murdered her comes for assistance to the Portuguese Jesuit priest, Father Mateo, and his secret body guard, the master ninja Hiro Hattori. Hiro and Father Mateo are at odds initially as the latter believes there’s a mystery here to be solved and Hiro believes this is a messy business they should avoid. The latest Shogun has died and various groups are vying for this position, indeed getting ready to go to war with each other to win the coveted position that carries so much power, riches and fame with it. Father Mateo and Hiro discover that the local magistrates won’t investigate this murder because the dead girl was the daughter of an actor, a profession considered shameful in 16th century Japan. Father Mateo, however, values every life and insists on investigating this murder, helping the family of the murdered girl, and defying the warning that they would be arrested if they interfered with any investigation. The intriguing parts of this mystery involve a golden coin found attached to the string that caused the death of Emi, a silent lover Jiro who was with Emi the night before she died but remembers nothing else, a family whose males acted in Noh dramas, a sister who knew of Emi’s plans and secret meetings with men at night, and parents who allowed Emi to act in unseemly ways because they couldn’t control her fierce passions about her future life. Besides being a good mystery, this novel is also intriguing in its presentation of the Noh actors’ culture, the set standards of communicating with men and women of different social classes, and the levels of integrity and abuse of the local clans ruling the area with its codes of behavior for different members in the samurai hierarchy. Wonderful historical mystery, Susan Spann! Highly recommended reading!
I thought this was a good addition to this series. It has been fun to follow ninja Hiro on the journeys in each book and solving the mysteries along the way. This time Hiro has be extra careful when looking for clues as the police have forbidden an investigation. I have not read any books in this time period and the only books I author's books. I enjoyed the book and they mystery but I did not really care for all the political parts. But that does not take away from the story that part is just not for me. If you are a fan of historical mysteries and are looking for a good book that does not follow the typical mold of cozy mysteries then I suggest you pick this book up.