My third Shinobi Mystery, Flask of the Drunken Master, released on Tuesday.**
Writers of mystery series get attached to our protagonists, and I love the time I spend with Hiro and Father Mateo. But it’s not just the detectives I’ve grown to love. Some of the secondary characters have become good friends of mine as well, and one nice thing about series fiction is that I have the chance to explore those other characters’ lives (and torment them…) from time to time.
In Flask, I bring back several favorite characters from earlier books in the series. Many readers have asked to know more about Ginjiro, his daughter Tomiko, and their sake brewery…and this is the novel that brings them to the forefront.
Suke the monk also gets his chance to shine.
I knew from the start of the series that I wanted to spend more time with Ginjiro, Tomiko, and Suke–both because of the characters and because I wanted to explore the curious world of Kyoto’s brewers and moneylenders.
During the medieval era, moneylending had become a significant practice in Japan. The warriors of the samurai class were forced to maintain a certain standard of living, but the culture prohibited them from owning businesses (openly, at least) or taking a job. As members of the warrior class, the samurai were expected to spend their lives in military (but not always profitable) pursuits. Warriors received an annual stipend from the lords they served, but by the 16th century many samurai–especially those from lower-ranked clans–found it difficult to maintain the expected lifestyle while still living within their means.
A burgeoning moneylending trade grew up to meet this need, with moneylenders often acting as pawnbrokers. Samurai in need of funds would leave a family heirloom with the moneylender for ‘safekeeping’–and retrieve it when the next year’s salary came in. Since samurai stipends were customarily paid in rice, the first moneylenders were the rice merchants to whom those stipends were delivered for distribution.
By the 16th century–the time of my Shinobi Mysteries–many rice merchants also had profitable moneylending operations on the side, lending to the samurai class or to people from other classes.
The mystery in Flask of the Drunken Master centers on the murder of a rival sake merchant in the alley behind Ginjiro’s brewery and shop, but the investigation takes Hiro and Father Mateo deep into the heart of both the brewery and moneylenders’ guilds. Modern FBI agents will tell you that one key way to solve a crime is to “follow the money.” Flask proves that isn’t just a modern notion…
**If you’re in the Denver area, I hope you’ll join me tonight [Thursday, July 16] at 7pm at the Tattered Cover in LoDo–1628 16th Street [at Wynkoop]–for a reading from FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER and tales from my recent travels to Japan!**