Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann, Book Review

Trial on Mount Koya is the sixth title in the Hiro Hattori / Shinobi Mystery series.

Susan Spann - Trial on Mount Koya Trial on Mount Koya Synopsis

Master ninja Hiro Hattori and Jesuit Father Mateo head up to Mount Koya, only to find themselves embroiled in yet another mystery, this time in a Shingon Buddhist temple atop one of Japan’s most sacred peaks.

November, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo travel to a Buddhist temple at the summit of Mount Koya, carrying a secret message for an Iga spy posing as a priest on the sacred mountain. When a snowstorm strikes the peak, a killer begins murdering the temple’s priests and posing them as Buddhist judges of the afterlife–the Kings of Hell. Hiro and Father Mateo must unravel the mystery before the remaining priests–including Father Mateo–become unwilling members of the killer’s grisly council of the dead.a

“East meets West, spies dine with monks, and mind grapples with heart in a sixteenth-century locked-room mystery on a snowy mountain. Susan Spann hits perfection yet again.” —Laurie R. King

(Seventh Street Books, July 2018)

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Crime-Detective, Historical

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I had already enjoyed 3 titles from this wonderful series – Blade of the Samurai (#2), The Ninja’s Daughter (#4) and Betrayal at Iga (#5) – and was delighted to hear Spann’s latest offering, Trial on Mount Koya features the classic whodunnit locked-room mystery structure in ‘a homage to Agatha’.

In the last novel, Spann introduced readers to the secluded forest setting and mountain village that was Hiro Hattori’s birthplace. We also learned of people from his childhood to whom this samurai had given his heart. Now add an arduous trek up Mount Koya with a secret message and a cat-box, a snowstorm that traps Hiro and Jesuit Mateo in a temple of zealous and suspicious Shingon priests, and then a group of women seeking shelter, and you have a tinderbox ready to combust.

Incense burners sat before the Buddhas, sending coils of pale, fragrant smoke into the air. The flickering, hazy light transformed the statues’ benevolent expressions to something sinister, as they gazed with sightless eyes upon the corpse.

No one is who they seem and the raging winter thunderstorm is symbolic of the tumult in the head and heart of our normally rock-steady protagonist Hiro — both hamper investigations considerably.

The desire for vengeance burned within him like molten steel waiting to be forged.

As well as a cracking mystery, we are again treated to Spann’s evocative descriptions of Japanese architecture (‘an enormous hondō, or worship hall, extended its curving, painted eaves like a falcon offering shelter to its young’), Mateo’s irreverent humour (‘We need to find her (Gato the cat) before she eats a sacred scroll or uses a holy urn as a latrine’) and Hiro’s sage and dry observations.

Hiro disagreed, but said nothing. Small minded men had large opinions that left no mental room for any ideas but their own.

What shines through in this Shinobi series, and what keeps me coming back for more, is the depth of friendship and understanding between Hiro and Father Mateo… one that surpasses politics, culture and religion. It is so refreshing to read of strong, triumphant characters that display loyalty and commitment, and patience and respect for all who cross their path. I look forward to going on many more adventures with this pair.

Trial on Mount Koya is another compelling read in this highly recommended Hiro Hattori / Shinobi Mystery series.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5  —  Overall 4.25

Get your copy of Trial on Mount Koya from:

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About the Author, Susan Spann

Susan Spann - Shinobi Mystery SeriesSusan Spann is the 2015 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year and the author of five previous novels in the Hiro Hattori / Shinobi Mystery series: Claws of the Cat, Blade of the Samurai, Flask of the Drunken Master, The Ninja’s Daughter, and Betrayal at Iga. She has a degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University and a lifelong love of Japanese history and culture. When not writing, she enjoys hiking, photography, and travelling in Japan.

Check out Susan’s website and connect with her on Facebook or on Twitter.

Be sure to check out the other tour stops on this TLC Book Tour to celebrate Trial on Mount Koya‘s release!

This review counts towards my participation in the 2018 New Release Challenge.

* My receiving a copy of Trial on Mount Koya from the publisher via TLC Book Tours for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.

More historical crime mysteries:
The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott  /  Fatal Induction by Bernadette Pajer  /  Queen of the Flowers by Kerry Greenwood  / The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters  /  Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner