Review – Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann
Several months ago I was fortunate enough to read Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann, which is the sixth book in her Shinobi Mystery series. Anyone follows my reviews must know by now how much I love this series, so I was highly anticipating this new one. The fifth book last summer, Betrayal at Iga, I had felt was her best yet, but I didn’t have much doubt that she’d still excel with this one as well. It released July 3, but I held my review until now as part of a larger scheduled publicity tour.
Once I found out that her childhood, and I suppose her adulthood, love of Agatha Christie inspired her to give a nod to And Then There Were None, my personal favorite Christie novel, I was instantly sold anyway. Couple that with ancient Japan, the same amazing characters in master ninja Hiro Hattori and Jesuit Father Mateo, and Spann’s elegant writing, and I couldn’t wait to tear open the cover.
Publisher’s Weekly gave it a stellar review: “Cleverly riffs on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None… Spann has never been better at balancing mystery with the politics of the era.”
As I tell readers in my reviews with all these books, they can be read as stand-alone novels as far as each plot goes. But as with most mystery series in which same characters reside, you certainly get more out of the characters, their lives, and their development if you read the entire series, but it doesn’t matter much which one you start with, so if you choose this one, going back later to the first book and trending through would be pleasurable reading too.
In this adventure, Hiro is asked to go to Myo-In, a Buddist Temple on Mount Koya, to deliver a secret message to an Iga spy posing as a priest. Of course, in proverbial mystery style, a snowstorm arrives locking everyone in, and so does a killer, taking them out one-by-one.
First, it’s probably the best place to reiterate just how much Spann has been able to grow Hattori and Mateo throughout the series. Her character development leaves us as long-time series fans feeling as if we know these two in real life. That said, in each of her books, never more true than with this sixth book, her surrounding cast of characters are also very dimensionally developed even if they aren’t featured in more than one book. I love how her writing can be so descriptive and deep as to make us immediately be able to view these characters and their surroundings in our minds like we’re watching a movie. With Trial on Mount Koya specifically, the two main protagonists are in an enclosed setting, making it increasingly harder one would think to nurture a character outward, but Spann intricately, through dialogue and pace, shows us just how strong these men are when faced with such pressure. As always, one of the best parts of reading her books is the humor between the two gentleman, and from page one, it was right there, drawing me in feeling as if I was back traveling with friends (oh, and a cat!).
In talking about setting then, with the severe storm, they all are in enclosed and in tight circumstances, which makes this novel atmospheric and claustrophobic, just as a real classic Christie novel might or a good film. This plays well with Spann’s descriptive writing and her amazing handle on dialogue, leaving us as the reader on edge ourselves.
Spann’s writing is highlighted in this novel by her ability to challenge herself with each book, her adept use of cinematic prose, and her talent for suspense, this time psychological thrills. I felt on the edge of the movie theatre seat of mind for the entire read.
Not only was this a blast to read, and a much needed one for some reading stress relief, but it was also so interesting to learn more not only of Japan in past books, but of Buddhism and its history and meanings. Spann also, in lieu of the other political themes from 16th century Japan in her other books, shows us various cultures and personalities of priests and characters adorning the plot of this novel and how they intersect (or don’t) with each other, which was very interesting as well. As always, Spann is a wealth of knowledge, but you almost forget you’re learning as you’re wrapped up in her succinct and engaging plot.
Spann is currently climbing 100 summits in Japan and spent release day on Mount Koya. I can’t imagine a more spectacular way to celebrate another novel. If you only read one book a summer, I’d with great pleasure suggest reading Spann’s Shinobi Mysteries. Trial on Mount Koya beats out Betrayal at Iga for best of the series, and also is my favorite read of 2018 so far. Not many books for pleasure reading are capturing my attention at the moment, and as a book editor, many are making me halt and want to get out my red pen, but Trial on Mount Koya was like taking a grand vacation! This is what good reading is all about, fellow bibliophiles.
Trial on Mount Koya is a mystery full of suspense, chilling atmospheric tension, and unique characters that will keep you guessing till the last page when you’ll scream at your cat laying next to you, “I should have known!!” Spann fools me EVERY time. If you want a historical mystery full of substance, beautiful imagery, comedic dialogue, and serious killers pitted against a stubborn ninja, then Trial at Mount Koya is for you. Spann brings Agatha Christie to feudal Japan and takes mystery writing to the next level.
I can’t wait for the seventh book!!
Trial on Mount Koya
by Susan Spann
Publication Date: July 3, 2018
Seventh Street Books
Paperback & eBook; 256 Pages
Genre: Historical Mystery
Series: Hiro Hattori, Book #6
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.
Praise for Trial on Mount Koya
“A page-turning and atmospheric historical mystery that beautifully melds fascinating Japanese history with a cleverly constructed mystery reminiscent of And Then There Were None—if the famous Agatha Christie mystery had been set in medieval Japan on a sacred mountaintop during a snowstorm.” —Gigi Pandian, USA Today–bestselling author of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mysteries
“Susan Spann is up front in saying that Trial on Mount Koya is an homage to Agatha Christie. Believe me, she does the great Dame Agatha proud. This excellent entry in Spann’s series of Hiro Hattori mysteries offers plenty of esoteric clues and red herrings that are fun to chase. Along the way, she even does Christie one better, giving readers a fascinating glimpse of life and religion in feudal Japan. This is a book sure to please Spann’s growing legion of fans as well as anyone who loves the work of Agatha Christie.” —William Kent Krueger, Edgar® Award–winning author of Sulfur Springs
Author Susan Spann
Susan Spann is the award-winning author of the Hiro Hattori mystery novels, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo.
Susan began reading precociously and voraciously from her preschool days in Santa Monica, California, and as a child 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.
Susan is the 2015 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year, a former president of the Northern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime (National and Sacramento chapters), the Historical Novel Society, and the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She is represented by literary agent Sandra Bond of Bond Literary Agency.
When not writing or representing clients, Susan enjoys traditional archery, martial arts, photography, and hiking. She recently packed-up her home in Sacramento and moved to Japan with her husband.
For more information, please visit Susan Spann’s website. You can find Susan on Facebook and Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded the #PubLaw hashtag to provide legal and business information for writers.
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