Such a shocking confession from a young man would normally compel an immediate response, but Hattori Hiro foresees only trouble if the Portuguese priest he’s been hired to protect, Father Mateo, agrees to get involved.
Jiro, the merchant’s apprentice who sought the priest’s help, doesn’t actually know if he was the girl’s killer. He had drunk too much sake and woke up to find his would-be lover dead. Although 16-year-old Emi had told him she was a teahouse entertainer, she was really an actor’s daughter. Her low social status makes her death unimportant: the authorities won’t investigate what happened to her.
Father Mateo bristles at this injustice and determines to uncover the truth. After he meets Emi’s family, Hiro finds himself compelled by professional and family loyalty to do the same.
Hiro and Father Mateo make a resourceful team; their partnership works well for their detection and also contributes to readers’ knowledge about the historical setting. Hiro acts as the Jesuit’s Japanese translator (although his fluency is excellent) but in this strict feudal society, Hiro’s role as a cultural translator is equally valuable.
Their investigation takes them from the banks of the Kamo River, whose wooden bridges are guarded by fierce armored samurai, to the inner workings of nō theatre, which has its own social hierarchy. As Hiro explains the finer aspects of Japanese culture to his companion/friend, readers are clued in as well.
This is an era when it pays to be especially careful, with the country in turmoil as rival daimyo vie for power after the shogun’s death. Father Mateo is being pressured to leave Kyoto for his own safety, which adds to the tension. The situation is amusingly lightened on occasion through the comments of the household’s maid, Ana, and the presence of Gato, their cat.
The Ninja’s Daughter is a complex and well-balanced mystery, with enough background included for series newbies and plenty of enticement to continue with the next book. It also comes with an undeniably powerful, setting-appropriate ending.
The novel is published by Seventh Street in trade paperback and ebook on August 2nd (230pp). Follow the rest of the tour at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.