Feb 26, 2022

A Shinobi Mystery Novel/Guest Post: Fires of Edo by Susan Spann

 Shinobi Mystery Series #8

Fires of Edo by Susan Spann
Seventh Street Books (February 15, 2022)

Book Beginning:

  The cry rang out from atop a nearby tower.
  "Fire! Fire!" Other voices echoed the alarm.
On the tower a bell began to toll. 
  "Where is it?" Father Matheo craned his neck to search the roofs of the wooden buildings that lined both sides of the narrow street. "Can you see it?"
  Master ninja Hattori Hiro searched for signs of any smoke or flames,...

My comments:

This is the eighth in the Shinobi Mystery Series by the author, who has set her books in Japan in the 16th Century, when the shogun ruler allowed and even welcomed Christian priests into the country.

The main character, Hiro Hattori, is a ronin, or rogue samurai without a master, who serves the priest Father Mateo while the priest is living in Japan, but Hiro is secretly a samurai of the Iga ryu ninja clan who has been charged with protecting Father Mateo and looking for dangerous spies from an enemy clan.

In Fires of Edo, Hiro and Mateo solve a crime in
 the town of Edo. Two book shop fires have resulted in the deaths of the book seller owners, deemed accidents. The third fire, subject of this book, seems very suspicious as the body of a samurai has been found in the ashes. The owner of the shop, Ishii, and his 10-year-old apprentice, Kintaro, become suspects in the fire and death and face swift execution. Hiro  then risks his life several times, in action-packed, suspenseful scenes, to find the truth behind the rash of fires, all the while on the lookout for hostile rival shinobi/ninja assassins. 

Descriptions of fire fighting techniques and methods, and details of city life immerse us in the culture of Edo and the officials who oversee them. The rules and rights that both govern and protect the samurai class apply. The priest's servant Ana and their cat Gato accompany Hiro and Mateo on their journeys and add some lightness to the plot.

I really enjoyed the suspense in the novel as well as the village setting, the food and hospitality of the inns, the rituals used in a public bath house, and other aspects of the life of those times.  I am very impressed with the historical research that the author has done for this and other books in the series.

Page 56 excerpt:

  "I have experience with investigations," Hiyoshi told the magistrate. " I understand fires and how they start...."                                      


   Edo Period Fire Pump

  Edo Period Bookshop (model) 

Guest post by Susan Spann

The Tiny Spark That Ignited Fires of Edo

 Inspiration is like fire: it often starts with a tiny, random spark, which smolders quietly for a while before bursting into flame.

That’s definitely true of my newest Hiro Hattori mystery, Fires of Edo, which owes its initial, early inspiration to a humble artifact I saw in a small museum, several years before I set the first words on the page.

In November 2016, while hiking part of an ancient travel road through Japan’s mountainous Kiso Valley as research for an entirely different book, I spent two nights in the preserved, historical post town of Magome, in Gifu Prefecture. The town consists of a single, steeply-sloping street that winds up the side of a mountain; traditional inns (called ryokan) and shops line both sides of the narrow, stone-paved road. In its heyday, Magome was one of the major stopping points on the Kiso-kaido, later known as the Nakasendo, a mountainous route that connected the ancient capital of Kyoto with the growing city of Edo—now called Tokyo.

The special inn where high-ranking samurai once spent the night in Magome is now a small museum filled with artifacts that relate to the history of the town and the Kiso Road. Most of the displays relate to domestic life or business: a woman’s cosmetic case, a portable scale, and an early clock that used burning incense to mark the passing hours.

Tucked away in a corner, a small, glass case held a display dedicated to the victims of one of Magome’s many fires; near the front, a simple, wooden device was labeled “龍吐水” (Dragon Spout) and “Water Pump” in English and Japanese. Bilingual text on the display identified the object as an Edo Period (1603-1868) fire extinguisher, a surprising and much-welcome technological advancement over the water buckets Japanese people had used to fight fires for centuries before.

As a long-time student of Japanese history, architecture, and culture, I was well aware of the devastating impact fire on Japan. In fact, if you visit (or read about) almost any major historical or religious site in Japan, you’re likely to see a reference to it burning down or being rebuilt after being destroyed by fire. However, this fire extinguisher, and particularly the text—which said nothing about how it was used, but instead discussed the surprise and joy with which it was received—started me thinking about the impact of fire, and firefighting, on the lives of ordinary Japanese people in the past. After all, it wasn’t only historical sites that burned; the fires that swept through Edo and other towns impacted common people too.

Three years later, when I finally began outlining the book in which my ninja detective, Hiro Hattori, and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick Father Mateo, arrived in Edo, that fire extinguisher instantly sprang to mind.

Books played an important role in Edo’s history, and I knew I wanted to set the story in the world of the men and women who made and sold books in Edo—which was then little more than a fishing town ruled by samurai. Normally, once I decide the cultural setting in which a book takes place, I spend a little time considering how a murder might take place there. With this book, for the first time ever, I already knew.

It was time for the spark ignited by the simple fire extinguisher in Magome to become a flame.

The story, which involves a suspicious murder-by-arson in a book binder’s shop, also features the fledgling fire brigade (sadly, still working sans extinguishers) who tried to keep the city safe from its many fires, which were so common that residents called them “the blossoms of Edo.” In fact, Blossoms of Edo was the original working title, which eventually changed to Fires of Edo—although I did manage to sneak the original saying into the story. Keep an eye out for it when you read the book!

Susan  Spann
スザン  スパン

Author of CLIMB (2020) 
& the Hiro Hattori (Shinobi) Mysteries  

2015 RMFW Writer of the Year

Magome at Sunset

Susan Spann is the award-winning, bestselling author of FIRES OF EDO and seven other books in the Hiro Hattori mystery series, as well as CLIMB: Leaving Save and Finding Strength on 100 Summits in Japan. She lives and writes in Tokyo, and is always looking for her next adventure; she shares stories and photographs from Japan at www.susanspann.com and on Facebook at /SusanSpannAuthor. 

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You ReadingMailbox Mondayand Sunday SalonStacking the Shelves

Feb 20, 2022

Book Review: The Lost Dragon Murder by Michael Allan Mallory: Sunday Salon


The Lost Dragon Murder by Michael Allan Mallory, December 31, 2021, BookLocker

Genre: traditional detective novel

First paragraph:
For a man who hated violence Henry Lau was awfully good at it. Well schooled in the way of the fist, he had considerable experience in its use....

My comments:
As the first in a planned series of mystery and police procedural novels featuring Detective Henry Lau, The Lost Dragon Murder introduces the main character and his side kick, his niece Detective Janet Lau, in some detail.

Henry has practiced the traditional Chinese art of Wing Chun kung fu for over 20 years, and is therefore an expert in it.  For self defense as well as to form a philosophy of life, Wing Chun allows Henry to cope with life's vagiaries, including the trauma of the loss of his great love, Kay. 

When Henry saves the life of a professor of Asian Studies in an apparent mugging, little did he know that the same professor would again be targeted because of a one-of-a-kind Chinese bronze dragon figurine. This priceless item is sought not only by an unknown collector but also by the Chinese government seeking the return of cultural artifacts.

I enjoyed the book because of the detailed character development as well as the plot and its action. I'm looking forward to more of Detective Lau in future books in the new series. 

What are you planning to read this week?

Feb 7, 2022

Book Review: Red Thread of Fate by Lyn Liao Butler


Red Thread of Fate by Lyn Liao Butler
Pub Date 08 Feb 2022
Berkley Publishing Group, Berkley
Genre: multicultural interest, women's fiction
Rating: 4.5/5 
Source: Netgalley
My comments:

A sudden tragedy leaves Tam a widow, one who finds herself in charge of a cousin's five-year-old daughter and facing a decision of whether to go through with her pending adoption of a young boy in China. 

The accident that kills Tam's husband, Tony, and his cousin Mia haunts her days, as she struggles with the idea of raising two young children on her own.  

A heartfelt story but with a predictable ending, the novel keeps your attention,  especially as it takes you through the complex process of going through with an adoption from China.


First Chapter of Red Thread of Fate:

She was on the phone with her husband when he died.

Tamlei Kwan leaned against a wall outside the elementary school during her lunch break, her phone tucked between her ear and shoulder.  

First Chapter/Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Yvonne at Socrates Book Reviews.

Feb 5, 2022

Sunday Salon: The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You ReadingMailbox Mondayand Sunday Salon  

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd, March 15, 2022, William Morrow
Genre: suspense, cartography, speculative fiction
Source: NetGalley advance reading copy

I learned something new about cartographers and the making of maps, about collections of ancient, old, and extremely valuable graphic representations. I was intrigued by the novel's plot of six post graduate students who followed their vision of how they could create a new way of seeing and mapping the world through new methods and their fantastical, astounding new discovery. How their attempts and discovery affect a grown-up Nell, the only child in the group, the toddler belonging to the only married couple in the student unit, is the focus of this story. 

Intense and suspenseful in parts, I was doubtful in the middle of the book but then was totally pulled in by the plot and later events. 

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