A 16th-century ninja and priest make an oddly effective pair of sleuths.
Kyoto has become ever more dangerous since the death of the shogun and the seizure of the city by the warlord Matsunaga Hisahide. Hattori Hiro, a highly trained shinobi assassin posing as a translator, has been hired to protect Father Mateo, a Portuguese priest tending to the poor. Jiro, a young man apprenticed to a rice merchant, begs the priest to help him when he awakens after a night of drinking to find the dead body of a girl he knows beside him on a riverbank. The young woman is Emi, the daughter of an actor, according to Japanese law, a person of no status whose death is not worth investigating. Father Mateo is horrified, and once Hiro learns that Emi’s father, Satsu, is really Hiro’s uncle and a shinobi in disguise, he’s willing to help as long as the investigation doesn’t endanger the priest. Emi, unlike her plain and obedient sister, Chou, was unwilling to marry and wanted to become a teahouse entertainer but had been unable to find anyone to train her. The murder weapon was a leather thong that held a gold coin; anyone who could afford to give Emi that coin must be suspect in her death. But there are plenty of other suspects, including Chou’s betrothed, an actor Emi seduced. A danger to them all is Yoriki Hosokawa, an assistant magistrate who yearns for higher status and resorts to blackmail for the money he requires. Hiro has been warned that they're marked for death if they don't leave the city soon, but Father Mateo is determined to know the truth before they leave. Since everyone in the case is telling lies, it’s good that both Hiro and the priest are practiced at unmasking deceit.
The fourth in this entertaining series (Flask of the Drunken Master, 2015, etc.) is a nicely balanced combination of mystery, political machinations, and Japanese customs.