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:

  "Fire!"
  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
http://www.susanspann.com   
      

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

49 comments:

  1. Book shop fires are so not cool! I hope they mystery was solved in a good way! Have a great weekend!

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    Replies
    1. Yes, the real culprit was discovered, and it was a surprise!

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  2. I really enjoyed the authors story on how she came up with the story in the book.

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    1. Fascinating, yes. And bookshops on fire in the book. A conflagration!

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  3. Ooh another Susan Spann book! I think I discovered her Shinobi mysteries on your blog not long ago, and added that one at the time to my buy list. Now I see this. adding this one too lol and I need to move these up and start them!

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    Replies
    1. I hope you get there, Greg. The author really likes this one, and I do too.

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  4. This sounds like a fascinating read! Thanks for sharing.

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  5. This sounds like a fantastic series that I've never heard of! So much research and attention to detail had to go into writing it. Glad you are enjoying them.

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    1. They're well worth reading for the historical fiction fans too!

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  6. Japan...mystery...a samurai...a priest...bookshops...all this sounds like it comes together for a fascinating story.

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    1. All the themes are put together very well, Deb Nance!

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  7. Japanese mysteries can be wonderful, though all that I have read have been translations from Japanese authors. They love the genre of locked-room mysteries, and often write new ones that compare to the old classics.

    I can see that Japanese firefighting from the past would be a good subject for a historical novel. In addition to other equipment they had remarkable textiles that were fire repellent, and made amazing clothing for the firefighters.

    best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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    1. I've enjoyed more modern Japanese mysteries that also incorporate a lot of the local culture! The firefighting aspect of this novel is intriguing.

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  8. I don't know this series, but it does sound like a good read! Glad to see you are so excited about it.

    Have a good week ahead!

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    1. I've read and enjoyed almost all the books in the series. Good reads!

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  9. What a great sounding book! Enjoy your week, and thanks for visiting my blog.

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  10. The setting of this one is what really intrigues me. But how could you not want to read a book where the main character is a rogue samurai? ;D

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  11. Interesting that the cat plays a part.

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    Replies
    1. A cat is in it, lol. The author owns a cat, I think.

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  12. Sounds like an exciting suspense book. I don't usually read historical fiction but this does sound like a good one.

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    1. Yes, a lot of things make this series out of the ordinary!

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  13. Sounds like a fun story. I like that you wrote the author's name in katakana. :)

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  14. A book set in 16th Century China sounds fascinating, I'm so glad you enjoyed this one. I love the image they used on the cover too.

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    1. A novel about 16th Century Japan featuring a samurai and a Catholic priest is definitely a book that's out of the ordinary!

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  15. This is a new to me author. Sounds interesting.

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  16. This sounds familiar but can't place it.

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  17. Ooo - I LOVE good murder mysteries and this series sounds fabulous. Thank you so much for a lovely review and the author's guest post explaining her inspiration.

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  18. Thank you for visiting and for your comments!

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  19. Wow quite fascinating the research and love the talk by the author about it. I'm very taken by Japanese settings in novels and the cover of this one is alluring. All in all, it sounds good!

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  20. This book and the series sound fascinating. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    Have a good week!

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  21. Replies
    1. It's an unusual, but good one, Veronica.

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  22. I'm glad you reminded me of this series! I read Claws of the Cat several years ago and liked it. I'd forgotten about it, but now I can go back and pick up with the series!

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    1. Glad you found the series again , Jenclair!

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  23. What a great poop. Thanks for sharing all this info and your book. By the way, beautiful photos and I wanted to highlight that in a position where many books appear, I would recommend that you have an ABC fire extinguisher nearby so that you could prevent a possible fire. Thanks for sharing.

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I love getting comments and your thoughts...

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