Series: Shinobi Mysteries (Volume 3)
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.
Shinobi Mystery Series Titles
Book One: Claws of the Cat (Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month)
Book Two: Blade of the Samurai
Book Three: Flask of the Drunken Master
Flask of the Drunken Master Available at
An Timely Surprise on a Sacred Mountain
by Susan Spann
My newest Shinobi Mystery, Flask of the Drunken Master, involves the murder of a brewer in an alley behind a saké shop. Since many people haven’t seen a traditional Japanese sake shop, I hoped to find some traditional spaces to photograph during my research trip to Japan in June.
What I didn’t suspect is what I’d find halfway up a sacred mountain.
I spent my second full day in Japan at Fushimi Inari Taisha, the most important of the 30,000 Shinto shrines dedicated to worship of Inari (god of foxes, fertility, rice, tea…and sake, among other things). Although some of the shrine’s larger buildings sit near the base of Mount Inari, visitors can also climb to the top of the mountain—a 3-hour round-trip which involves a LOT of stairs and breathtaking scenery. (A sentence which could also be written “breathtaking stairs, and scenery” for those as out of shape as me.)
The mountain has several “stations” with sub-shrines, restaurants, and places where visitors can purchase offerings for Inari or refreshments for themselves. For Inari, the stations offer bottles of saké and wooden prayer sticks for writing down wishes and petitions to the god. For the visitors, the options are tea, soft-serve ice cream, and a variety of delicious Japanese snacks, as well as keepsake amulets.
Halfway up the mountain, I decided to stop for a snack at a restaurant perched on a ledge that offered a view of the shrine on one side:
And a gorgeous view of Kyoto on the other:
To my delight, the restaurant was built in the traditional style, with a knee-high floor for patrons to sit on while enjoying a drink or a meal. Tatami matting covered the floor and cushions, rather than chairs, were provided for guests to sit or kneel upon—as they would have been in medieval days.
In Flask of the Drunken Master, I describe Ginjiro’s saké shop as having a raised, tatami-covered floor with places for the patrons to sit or kneel. Except for the lowered “aisle” that runs through the center (and the electric lights!), the restaurant on Mount Inari was set up very much like Ginjiro’s…with, admittedly, a much better view.
In my mystery novels, Ginjiro’s shop sits deep in the heart of Kyoto, with a view of a busy street. Unlike the teahouse on Mount Inari, medieval sake shops could not afford to sacrifice traffic for views. The best locations were near a source of water (for making the saké), on roads that didn’t get swampy in the rain, and in locations with lots of traffic.
Choosing a busy but well-maintained road was critically important. Medieval Japanese cities had fairly narrow, earthen roads. Most people traveled on foot (by law, only members of the noble samurai class were allowed to ride horses).
Shops like Ginjiro’s clustered together in places convenient for samurai and commoners to enjoy a drink or buy a flask of sake after a long day’s work. However, they did bear one important similarity to the restaurant on Mount Inari: medieval Japanese saké shops were places their patrons went to enjoy a quiet moment and escape from the world outside.
The climb to the top of Mount Inari represents a journey from the daily world (the profane) to a sacred, traditional space. Climbing past hundreds of torii gates and through the ancient cedar groves felt a little like walking back through time to a more traditional age. The fact that I found “Ginjiro’s”—or at least its close companion—waiting for me near the top was an unexpected, and wonderful, surprise.
Susan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI released in 2014, and her third novel, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, releases on July 14, 2015. Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at http://www.SusanSpann.com, on Twitter (@SusanSpann), and on Facebook (SusanSpannAuthor).
[Text and Photographs © 2015 Susan Spann]
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.
Susanís 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.
Flask of the Drunken Master Blog Tour Schedule
Monday, July 6
Excerpt at What Is That Book About
Tuesday, July 7
Review at Book Babe
Thursday, July 9
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Friday, July 10
Guest Post & Giveaway at Unshelfish
Tuesday, July 14
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog
Thursday, July 16
Excerpt & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More
Friday, July 17
Guest Post at Just One More Chapter
Monday, July 20
Guest Post & Giveaway at Booklover Book Reviews
Thursday, July 23
Interview & Excerpt at Jorie Loves a Story
Friday, July 24
Guest Post at Book Dilettante
Monday, July 27
Guest Post at Reading the Past
Tuesday, July 28
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation
Monday, August 3
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Tuesday, August 4
Review at A Book Geek
Wednesday, August 5
Guest Post at Editing Pen
Thursday, August 6
Review at Diana’s Book Reviews
Friday, August 7
Guest Post at Boom Baby Reviews
Enter for a chance to win a copy of Flask of The Drunken Master, please complete the giveaway form below. Open to US residents only. Ends 7/17/15