Claws of the Cat: A Shinobi Mystery
I picked up this book because one of my closest friends had good things to say about the author. Not about her work--about her practical advice. Also, I'd seen Spann's books in the library and been cautiously interested. Interested, because of the setting: 16th century Japan. Cautious, because of the setting: writers of historical mysteries have an unfortunate tendency to blather on about the "historical" while short-changing the "mystery".
Inevitably, I wound up comparing Claws of the Cat to the last mystery I had read, Original Sin. With no disrespect intended to Susan Spann, P. D. James was a better writer. With very minor elisions, Claws of the Cat could have been a young-adult novel. There's very little strong descriptive prose in Claws of the Cat, and nothing much in the way of mood. The characters are, at best, two-dimensional: defined by a single attribute (you could label them the Angry Son, the Fearful Entertainer, and so on) and not straying far from that. One of the two principal characters, the Jesuit Father Mateo, is used mainly as a plot device--he asks the questions that his Japanese minder can't ask for social reasons.
Having said that, while I'm not likely to read any more P. D. James, I am likely to read more Susan Spann. I read for entertainment, and Spann is entertaining in a way that James isn't. She plays the game fairly and provides value for time invested. The setting is handled well. The pacing is good. The mystery is mysterious. The solution is satisfying.
Susan Spann may get better over time; she seems to take her craft seriously. I'm willing to find out.