I love writing a mystery series because it lets me return, again and again, to the worlds and characters I love. I love reading series, too, for the very same reasons. Like most readers, I can’t wait for another “ride along” with my favorite sleuths, from Richard Castle to Sherlock Holmes … and, of course, my own ninja detective, Hiro Hattori.
But fictitious worlds don’t revolve around a single person any more than the real world does, and series fiction also gives me (and everyone else!) the chance to learn more about the other characters who populate those worlds.
In the first Shinobi Mystery, Claws of the Cat (Minotaur Books, 2013), Hiro must find a samurai’s killer in order to save the life of a teenage geisha, as well as that of Father Mateo, the Portuguese priest that Hiro has pledged his life to protect. During the investigation, Hiro and Father Mateo become a detecting team, and also friends.
While searching for information about the victim, Hiro contacts another friend (and fellow ninja) named Kazu, who works undercover at the shogun’s palace. Unlike Hiro, who masquerades as a ronin, or masterless samurai, Kazu’s assignment requires him him to “blend in” with a little more style:
He wore an expensive black kimono that bore the shogun’s crest, and his swords cost more than most shopkeepers made in a year. He wore his hair in a perfect topknot, oiled and shining like moonlight on a midnight lake. His narrow face and black almond-shaped eyes stopped women in the street, but he exuded a humility that belied his twenty years. His careful movements and friendly demeanor made men trust him and consider him no threat.
Most men, anyway.
Hiro knew Kazu better than that.
As his creator, I knew him better too. In particular, I knew that Kazu’s history with Hiro went much farther than I could reveal in Claws of the Cat.
Like Hiro, Kazu is a ninja (in Japanese, a “shinobi”) from the famous Iga clan. He’s younger than Hiro by several years, and assigned to spy on the shogun from a position within the Japanese government—consider him a young James Bond to Hiro’s Sherlock Holmes.
I also knew, before I started writing Claws of the Cat, that Kazu would come to the forefront in the second novel, Blade of the Samurai.
Blade opens just after the shogun’s cousin—Kazu’s boss—is murdered with Kazu’s dagger in the office the two men share. Kazu asks for Hiro’s help, but won’t explain exactly where he was when the murder happened. When the investigation reveals a plot to kill the shogun, too, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between duty and friendship.
Without giving spoilers, I can say that Blade of the Samurai gave me a chance to bring back a favorite character (Kazu) and give him his “fifteen pages of fame” (as the old expression almost goes). I wanted to develop Kazu more in the second novel, because his story is important to understanding where Hiro came from—and because Kazu is so interesting—to me and, as it turns out, to readers too. He deserved a larger role.
Blade of the Samurai is a standalone novel, so readers won’t feel left out if they haven’t read Claws of the Cat, but I think returning readers will enjoy the return of several “old friends”– and quite a few new ones, too.
What do you think about bringing back secondary characters for semi-starring roles in later books? Do you look forward to seeing them again?