Mar 2nd 2006
From The Economist print edition
ESPIONAGE thrillers look simple to cook up—international politics, shadowy spy agencies, super-fit heroes and athletic sex offer an easy recipe—but few authors get anything close to providing a gourmet meal. Fewer still can create characters that endure and develop from book to book, and avoid the ghetto of a single arena of national or regional intrigue. One that increasingly looks like bucking the trend is Barry Eisler.
The first two books that featured Mr Eisler's Japanese-American assassin-hero, John Rain, “Rain Fall” (2002) and “Hard Rain” (2003) were written with a delightfully soft touch and a powerful blend of excitement, exotica and what (ever since John le Carré) readers have known to call tradecraft. But they were likely to appeal mostly to those who know or are intrigued by Japan, for that is where they were based.
With two leaps, however, Mr Eisler has broken free. In “Rain Storm” (2004) both the hero and the villains discovered globalisation. The action moved to South-East Asia, Hong Kong and Brazil, while the protagonists broadened to encompass Mossad, al-Qaeda, arms dealers and sundry shady Saudis, as well of course as the CIA. And now in “Killing Rain” the dramatis personae are similarly broad, while the main locations are Hong Kong and the Philippines. Few readers will be able to visit the men's toilets in Hong Kong's China Club without a nervous backwards glance at the maintenance door, from behind which Mr Rain emerges for one of his killings.
Mr Eisler has managed to pull off two further tricks, in addition to escaping the Japanese trap. One is to make the tradecraft convincing rather than simply gadget-ridden or exotic, and to make the organisations and people practising it feel believable. In this he has an advantage: just as Mr le Carré spent some time in Britain's MI6, so Mr Eisler served for three years in the CIA. The second trick is to make his hero's thoughts almost as interesting as his actions, thus providing a more balanced and satisfying read: Mr Rain is a paid killer with a conscience, always questioning his own motives and morals, trying to work out which are the good guys and which the bad, so that he is on the right side. He is also increasingly preoccupied with retirement, which means eluding all the agencies he has worked for or against. This reviewer, at least, hopes that Mr Rain will put off quitting for a while."
By Barry Eisler
Putnam; 352 pages; $24.95
Published in Britain as “One Last Kill” £12.99
What this reviewer seems not to know is that book 5 of the series, The Last Assassin, is available at bookstores everywhere on 1 June. And that book 6 might culminate the adventures of John Rain.
Help me out here; if you have read the books, what do you think of them...?
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist