Read the chatscript from Susan Spann’s visit to #litchat here.
Murder is nothing new. It is not sexist or ageist. It is not confined to the West. And it doesn’t favor the saint or sinner. In Susan Spann‘s mid-16th century mystery, The Claws of the Cat, an important samurai is murdered inside a Kyoto tea house. When Sayuri, the young female entertainer (the term geisha had not yet evolved, but the job had) accused of the murder, calls for the Portuguese priest, Father Mateo, he brings along his companion, a samurai named Hiro. We learn early that Hiro isn’t an ordinary samurai, he’s a shinobi—assassin (ninja)—hired by the local shogun to protect Father Mateo. When the murdered samurai’s hot-headed son storms in demanding Sayuri’s execution, Hiro and Father Mateo are given three days to prove her innocence and bring in the real murderer, or Father Mateo will be executed along with Sayuri. Hiro’s shinobi training and Father Mateo’s spiritual insight combine to solve the murder.
Ancient Japan was a culture of courtesies and vulgarities, of beauty and monstrosity, grace and violence. By the 16th century the Japanese had already embraced Buddhism into their Shinto religious ways and Catholicism was the next set of gods they were ready to accept. Into Shintoism, that is. What makes The Claws of the Cat so interesting is the unlikely confluence of the shinobi Hiro and the Jesuit priest Father Mateo. Through Hiro and Father Mateo’s questioning of the tea house entertainers, we learn about the floating world of the entertainment district of Kyoto. Through Hiro’s undercover job as protectorate of Father Mateo, we glimpse the confusion, suspicion and fear of the evangelical arm of the Catholic church. Nipponophiles will appreciate Spann’s descriptions of samurai life, historical detail, and feudal society.
Susan Spann is a transactional attorney and former law school professor whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. 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. She keeps a marine aquarium where she raises seahorses and rare corals. She lives in northern California with her family.
Spann is a member of Mystery Writers of America, the Historical Novel Society and the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Association and is represented by literary agent Sandra Bond of Bond Literary Agency.