Please join us in welcoming back author and WU contributor Susan Spann. Spann is the author of six novels in the Hiro Hattori mystery series, featuring master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. A former publishing attorney with a degree in Asian studies from Tufts University, she is currently living in Japan, writing mysteries and climbing mountains for her upcoming nonfiction debut about surviving cancer, conquering fear, and finding strength on the famous summits of Japan.
We’re celebrating the April 23rd release of CLAWS OF THE CAT: a Hiro Hattori Mystery (Original hardback title: CLAWS OF THE CAT: a Shinobi Mystery).
Thanks for joining us today, Susan!
“While Spann demonstrates admirable attention to detail in her ninja detective debut, it’s the contemporary tone of her prose that makes this intriguing 16th-century historical so accessible. ” — Library Journal (starred review, mystery debut of the month)
Q1: What’s the premise of your new book?
When a samurai general is murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, a master ninja has just three days to find the killer to save the life of the beautiful geisha accused of the crime and the Jesuit priest the ninja has pledged his own life to protect. This is the first novel in my Hiro Hattori mystery series, and introduces readers to master ninja Hiro, Jesuit Father Mateo, their feisty housekeeper, Ana, and the rest of the recurring cast. I like to describe it as “Holmes & Watson in 16thcentury (samurai-era) Japan.”
Q2: What would you like people to know about the story itself?
Most people think of “ninjas” as pajama-clad movie supermen (or turtles…) but ninjas (shinobi, in Japanese), were actually highly-trained spies and covert operatives, trained not only to kill but as masters of disguise and all kinds of espionage. My protagonist, Hiro, is a fictitious cousin of legendary ninja Hattori Hanzō and far closer to a real-life ninja than the smoke-and-mirrors movie dudes. He’s also a badass, whose burgeoning friendship with Father Mateo forms as much a core of the book (and the series) as the mystery itself.
Q3: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?
In addition to navigating the treacherous waters of 16th century Kyoto’s entertainment district—what would become known as the geisha district or the “floating world”—Hiro and Father Mateo must discover the truth about a female samurai warrior, a hidden spy, and a forbidden romance, as well as learning to work together (despite their differences) to solve their very first mystery.
Q4: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?
This was not only the first mystery for Hiro and Father Mateo, but also the first for me. I love the puzzle involved in building a mystery, especially when I can set it in a vibrant, dangerous time like medieval Japan (the Japanese medieval period continued longer than it did in the West). In addition to the challenge of building the mystery, I needed to make sure the details were historically accurate without overwhelming the fast-paced plot—a unique and serious challenge, but a fun one!
Q5: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?
Being able to introduce Hiro and Father Mateo to readers, and helping them discover the fun of exploring an unfamiliar setting (historical Japan) in a mystery novel. Sharing Hiro’s adventures is truly a dream come true.
Extra exciting news: In addition to the next Hiro Hattori Mystery, GHOST OF THE BAMBOO ROAD, which releases in July 2019, I’m thrilled to be writing a nonfiction book about overcoming cancer and fear by climbing the famous mountains of Japan. The book will release in January 2020 from Prometheus Books – and I can’t wait to share it!