Monday, September 19, 2016

Susan Spann, Flask of the Drunken Master

Susan Spann, Flask of the Drunken Master
Minotaur Books/A Thomas Dunne Book/St. Martin’s Press, © 2015

The third book in the series finds Matsui Hiro (acting as a bodyguard) and Father Mateo (a Portuguese Catholic priest) investigating the murder of the half-owner of a not-very-good sake brewery; the accused in Ginjiro, who is a friend of Hiro’s (and to whom he has a personal obligation).  The murder occurred late at night, outside Ginjiro’s establishment (a bar/eatery/brewery of a higher class than the dead man,s, Chikao).  Chikao has, as it happens, a ne’er-do-well son (Kaoru) who has debts right and left; a debt collector trying to collect his debts, Akechi Yoshiki (the daughter of a murder victim in a previous book—Blade of the Samurai—in the series), may or may not have been on the scene shortly before, or at the time of, or shortly after, the murder.

Complicating matters include the political tension surrounding the appointment of a new Shogun, which threatens to engulf Hiro and Mateo (and Luis Alvarez, the Portuguese trader who has a contract to sell guns…to the wrong faction).  Security has become so tight in yoto that just getting around to make the investigation is problematic.  Another complication is that is they cannot clear Ginjiro quickly, he will be tortured until he confesses or dies.

The characters are well done (and Mina, Chikao’s widow, is especially interesting); the continuing characters hold out interest, and the drunken monk Suke actually makes a contribution to the investigation.  Spann continues to provide a rich (and so far as I can tell, accurate) backdrop for the action, and to develop the relationship between Hiro and Mateo, as they try to reconcile their cultural differences.  It may seem (it deemed to me) that the solution was sort of ad hoc, but it holds up well enough to make this a worthwhile read in an excellent series.

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