Review of Betrayal at Iga by Susan Spann

book cover image Betrayal at Iga by Susan SpannSusan Spann’s Shinobi mystery series immerses the reader in medieval Japan, culturally and physically. Her plots twist and surprise. They are always excellent reads, but Betrayal at Iga surpasses even Spann’s high standards. She throws Hiro and Father Mateo into Hiro’s childhood village—an unusual place populated by trained assassins. Hiro questions the trustworthiness of those nearest and dearest to him in this book, which raises the stakes to utterly glued-to-the-page levels. And just when you think you’ve got these terrifyingly intimate betrayals sorted, watch out. Not only does this setting create a stirring plot, but it allows Spann to bring her readers in close to Hiro, closer than we’ve been before, and to show how deeply influenced he has been by his friendship with the foreign Mateo. Spann explores in depth the conflict between Mateo’s values and the traditional medieval Japanese values of clan and family loyalties. All this rich character and plot writing, and a setting you can taste, smell and see with a deeply satisfying vividness. In the opening chapter Spann offers this glimpse of the first setting: “Carved stone lanterns stood on either side of the wooden steps leading up to the covered veranda that surrounded Hanzo’s home. In the gathering darkness, their flickering light illuminated a row of crimson maples, dwarfed by pruning to prevent intruders from using them to scale the roof. The maple leaves glowed like coals, surrounding the house with living flame.” How’s that for lurking menace combined with beauty? And the meal the characters are about to eat? Here’s a taste: “Hiro inhaled the fragrant steam, which carried a briny tang along with the slightly musty scent of mushrooms that floated atop the pale broth. A piece of fish sat half submerged in soup, its flesh pale white beneath a paper-thin layer of crispy skin.” Ready to consume? You should be. Spann’s Hiro Hattori novels are a must-read for all historical mystery lovers.

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