Today we welcome Susan Spann, author of the Shinobi Mystery Series to Booklover Book Reviews to celebrate the release of her third title Flask of the Drunken Master.
August 1565: When a rival artisan turns up dead outside Ginjiro’s brewery, and all the evidence implicates the brewer, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo must find the killer before the magistrate executes Ginjiro and seizes the brewery, leaving his wife and daughter destitute. A missing merchant, a vicious debt collector, and a female moneylender join Ginjiro and the victim’s spendthrift son on the suspect list. But with Kyoto on alert in the wake of the shogun’s recent death, a rival shinobi on the prowl, and samurai threatening Hiro and Father Mateo at every turn, Ginjiro’s life is not the only one in danger.
Will Hiro and Father Mateo unravel the clues in time to save Ginjiro’s life, or will the shadows gathering over Kyoto consume the detectives as well as the brewer?
Flask of the Drunken Master is the latest entry in Susan Spann’s thrilling 16th century Japanese mystery series, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Jesuit Father Mateo.
Last year I really enjoyed Book 2 in this series, Blade of the Samurai, in particular the 16th century Japanese setting depicted and how personable leading man Hiro is (for a shinobi).
More on the book giveaway in a moment…
but first, Susan shares with us some of the interesting things she has learned about the shinobi while undertaking research for this series.
Goshikimai: the Ninjas’ Coded Rice
During the medieval age, ninjas—also known as shinobi—were known and feared throughout Japan for their skills as undercover agents, spies, and assassins. Their legendary abilities (some real, and others imagined) combined to make the shinobi a subject of great concern for samurai warriors charged with protecting their daimyo, or lords, from harm.
In the West, movies and comic books portray the ninja as a pajama-clad, shuriken-throwing superhuman, capable of leaping over walls and striking without warning. Although the shinobi really did carry throwing stars and scale walls, they were very much human. These highly-trained warriors used a variety of unique skills and specially-tailored weapons to gain the advantage in combat and excel in espionage.
All ninjas trained in combat skills, but many—if not most—were not primarily assassins. Far more often, the shinobi acted as spies and undercover agents, gathering information for their clans or for the samurai who hired them to spy on rival warlords. In order to pass information to other agents, the shinobi developed several systems of passing secret information, known as “dentatsu-jutsu.”
One of these secret methods of communication, called goshikimai, was based on colored grains of rice. Shinobi dyed or painted grains of rice in purple, black, red, yellow, and blue. Combinations of colored grains represented sounds (much like the sounds in the English phonics system); when combined, the sounds created words and messages which other shinobi could understand.
The colored rice was often left by roadsides or in other pre-arranged locations, generally outside, where the colored rice was less likely to draw attention. Birds and animals left the rice alone because the dye, which was water-resistant, also had an unpleasant flavor. Even so, the rice degraded fairly quickly, making goshikimai an effective short-term method of secret communication—once received, the messages could be scattered and allowed to decompose naturally, leaving no trace of the message and no evidence for the recipient to carry away from the scene.
When writing my Shinobi Mysteries, I try to make my ninja detective, Hiro, as close to a real historical ninja as possible. He uses climbing claws to scale walls, and he’s lightning-fast with a sword, but he also has to worry about real-world problems like how to accomplish clandestine missions without being spotted and arrested by the samurai guards who patrol the streets. Like real shinobi, he uses disguises (primarily that of a ronin, or masterless samurai) and tries to blend into the population. Fortunately, his role as “translator” to the Portuguese Jesuit, Father Mateo, gives him both the cover and the excuse he needs to fulfill his true role as the Jesuit’s bodyguard.
I haven’t yet had the chance to use goshikimai in my mystery novels, but it will make an appearance in an upcoming story, for sure. In the latest installment, Flask of the Drunken Master, Hiro makes due with more-familiar shinobi tools: shuriken, swords, a mastery of stealth—and a handful of bamboo-encased explosives. How and where he’ll use the rice… well, that’s a story for another day.
[Text and Photographs © 2015 Susan Spann]
How ingenious! Thank you so much Susan.
Flask of the Drunken Master is available from:
Amazon | B&N | Bookworld(Aus) | Book Depository | Kobobooks
Susan Spann acquired her love of books and reading during her preschool days in Santa Monica, California. As a child she read everything from National Geographic to Agatha Christie. In high school, she once turned a short-story assignment into a full-length fantasy novel (which, fortunately, will never see the light of day).
A yearning to experience different cultures sent Susan to Tufts University in Boston, where she immersed herself in the history and culture of China and Japan. After earning an undergraduate degree in Asian Studies, Susan diverted to law school. She returned to California to practice law, where her continuing love of books has led her to specialize in intellectual property, business and publishing contracts.
Susan’s interest in Japanese history, martial arts, and mystery inspired her to write the Shinobi Mystery series featuring Hiro Hattori, a sixteenth-century ninja who brings murderers to justice with the help of Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest. When not writing or representing clients, Susan enjoys traditional archery, martial arts, horseback riding, online gaming, and raising seahorses and rare corals in her highly distracting marine aquarium. Susan lives in Sacramento with her husband, son, three cats, one bird, and a multitude of assorted aquatic creatures.
To celebrate the release of Susan Spann’s Flask of the Drunken Master, we have 1 paperback copy to giveaway:
- US mailing addresses only
- entries close midnight 9 August 2015
- extra entries for spreading the word via Twitter [+2] and Facebook/Google+/Webpage [+4]
- the winner will be randomly selected and must respond to my email requesting their mailing address within 5 days otherwise their prize will be forfeited and another winner selected
SORRY, ENTRIES CLOSED – Winner announced HERE