Reader’s Guide

Claws of the Cat: a Shinobi Mystery

Thank you for reading Claws of the Cat! I hope you enjoyed spending time with Hiro and Father Mateo, and that these questions will enhance your reading experience. Don’t feel obligated to use them all – I’ve included a wide selection so you can choose the ones that appeal to you and your group.

If you’d like to know more, or to schedule an author appearance for your school or book club, please feel free to email me through my website. I love to hear from readers!

1. Were you surprised to learn the novel’s protagonist, Hiro Hattori, is a shinobi (ninja) assassin? How does Hiro’s shinobi training help him solve the crime?

2. How are Hiro and Father Mateo alike? How do they differ? Why do you think they have such a close bond, despite their very different backgrounds?

3. The Portuguese arrived in Japan in 1543. Before that, Japan was almost completely closed to foreigners. How does Father Mateo’s status as a foreigner and a priest impact the way the Japanese treat him? What difficulties and inconveniences do you think Jesuit priests encountered as they tried to fit into medieval Japanese culture and society?

4. Did it surprise you to learn that women could own businesses in medieval Japan? Most of the female-owned businesses fell within the “floating world” of the entertainment culture, with geisha houses, teahouses, and brothels among the most common. Why do you think so many of these businesses were owned by women? What are the benefits (and drawbacks) a medieval Japanese woman might experience from owning a business?

5. Compare and contrast Mayuri (the teahouse owner) and Sayuri (the entertainer accused of murdering Akechi Hideyoshi). What was your initial impression of each? Did your opinion change as you read the novel? Would you have treated Sayuri differently than Mayuri did? Why or why not?

6. Have you seen movies or read other books about shinobi (ninjas)? How did Hiro seem similar to and different from popular ideas about ninjas or representations of ninjas in popular culture? Did the novel confirm or change your preconceptions about shinobi?

7. Lord Oda Nobunaga was a real daimyo (Japanese warlord), who plotted against the shogun in an attempt to take over Japan. How does the use of real historical people and settings enhance a historical novel like Claws of the Cat?

8. In medieval Japan, laws and social rules applied differently to samurai than to commoners. How was this demonstrated in the novel? Why and how does Father Mateo’s status as a foreigner allow him to break the social rules with fewer consequences than a Japanese person would face?

9. How do you think Hiro got the scars on his shoulder and upper thigh?

10. Why do you think Luis Alvarez, the weapons merchant, continues to live in Kyoto since he appears to dislike the Japanese and their culture? Do you think Luis is a “good guy” or a “bad guy”? Did your opinion change by the end of the novel?

11. Does Ana (the housekeeper) like Hiro or not? Why do you think so?

12. Did it surprise you to see a female samurai character? Does it surprise you to learn that there really were some female samurai warriors, and that daughters of samurai households were often trained to use swords and other weapons?

13. Sakura is Japanese for “cherry” or “cherry blossom.” In Japanese culture, cherry blossoms are a symbol of springtime, youth, and ephemeral beauty that fades very quickly. Was this a fitting name for the teahouse? A fitting theme for the novel? Why or why not?

14. The drunken monk (or “drunken master”) is an archetypal character in Japanese fiction. Why do you think the author included such a character in this novel? What do you learn about Ginjiro and Hiro from the way they treat Suke the monk?

15. Hiro and Kazu have known one another since childhood. Did Kazu help Hiro solve the crime? Why do you think Hiro risked asking Kazu for help?

16. Who is your favorite character in Claws of the Cat? Which character do you most identify with? Which characters would you like to see return in another novel?

17. Discuss the relationship between Yoshiko and Nobuhide. Do they have a good relationship or a strained one? How would their relationship have been different if Nobuhide had been the older sibling?

18. How did Hiro and Father Mateo work together to solve the crime? What unique skills and character traits does each of them bring to the team?

19. What do you think of the manner in which Hiro exposes the killer? Would you have handled the situation differently?

20. Why did the killer commit the crime? How did the cultural restrictions of medieval Japanese culture impact the killer’s motives?

21. Did adopting a kitten make Hiro more likeable? What useful role(s) does the kitten play in Claws of the Cat?

22. What was your favorite scene, setting, or detail in the novel? Did you learn anything new or unexpected about medieval Japan?

23. Mystery novels generally have more than one suspect. Which characters did you suspect of committing the murder? Did your opinion change as you read the novel? Why or why not?