Susan Spann, Ghost of the Bamboo Road
Copyright © 2019 Susan Spann
Seventh Street Books
Let me begin with this: I’d read around a third of Ghost of the Bamboo Road yesterday when I stopped to eat dinner and do come chores. Around 8:30, I picked it up again, planning to read for an hour or so before going to bed. Around 11, I finished the book, having not gotten out of my chair.
From which you may deduce (correctly) that I was truly immersed in the story.
That was not altogether a surprise to me. Having read the previous 6 books in the series, I was prepared to enjoy mystery and the characters. And, obviously, I was not disappointed.
Hiro Hattori (not his “real” name), a ninja, has been hired by someone who chooses to remain anonymous, to protect Father Mateo, a Catholic priest in Japan, trying to spread the word. Or, at any rate, his words. Hiro is skeptical of the mission, but takes his assignment seriously. He has, over time, come to respect and admire Mateo, even as he remains skeptical of his mission.
In this addition to the o-going saga, Hiro, Mateo, Ana (his Japanese housekeeper), and Gato (the cat, of course) are on their way from Kyoto to Edo. Rumors have spread that the power behind the Emperor plans to destroy the ninja and kuniochi (the female equivalent) and move the capitol from Kyoto to Edo. They have stopped in this village to warn Emiri (a kunoichi residing there) of the necessity of going into hiding.
Almost immediately after their arrival, the mother of the innkeeper is murdered; many of the villagers believe that she was killed by a yūrei—ghost—who has been wronged by someone in the village and who seeks revenge. Neither Hiro nor Mateo is willing to accept that yūrei exist, let alone that they can kill. Mateo wishes to remain, at least briefly, to try to discover the killer (which, really, means to have Hiro discover the killer); Hiro believes that his mission is more important. And, as Emiri cannot be found, he is in favor of leaving immediately for Edo.
Of course they stay. And of course they become involved (partly because Ana is accused of stealing a trove of silver coins). Their investigation, and the accusation against Ana, brings them in contact with all the villagers (including a couple of unexpectedly interesting and astute men), and with a yamabushi—a hermit/holy man—who lives in the forest. And, of course, they do discover the murderer.
And if it seems all to “of-course-ish” in my summary, it’s anything but in the reading. Hiro and Mateo are a good pairing, and they have become close friends. The villagers, including the resident Samurai, are not just here to advance the plot, but are people with lives that have been disrupted, lives that they hope to be able to recover.
Of the 7 books so far in the series, this has the least sword-play and violence, and the deepest exploration of character. (Not that the first 6 ignore character.)
If you have not yet found Spann’s work, I encourage you to seek it out. If you are already a reader, I probably don’t have to encourage you to read this one. It’s a fine book.
 Claws of the Cat; Blade of the Samurai; Flask of the Drunken Master; The Ninja’s Daughter Betrayal at Iga;;and Trial on Mount Koya.