The Last Assassin
Whereas John Rain ages in these books -- his reflexes slow, his mind roams about over unfamiliar terrain -- Eisler grows in auctorial talent. And where the earlier novels carried a punch with each new episode, this novel lingers on the palate like the single malts Rain favors, as it explores in increasing depth several characters but especially those of Rain, Delilah, Dox, and Tatsu.
Eisler is at top form when he aims a heat lamp on Rain's tradecraft...
"I've never liked doing a job in a new place. You don't know how to get in and out undetected, you don't know what tools you'll need to access the target, you don't know where you'll stick out and where you'll be able to just fade into the background or disappear in a crowd. To compensate, I start by studying the area from afar, move in only when I've learned as much as possible, and always arrive early enough to become familiar with the local terrain before it's time to act. Tactics like these have kept me alive, and even relatively prosperous, during a quarter century of doing the thing I've always been best at. But this time the preparation was reflex, not necessity..."John Rain's problem in this novel is that the unfamiliar terrain he thinks he is talking about is Barcelona. He believes he is up to the task. Unfortunately for Rain, there exist no maps or tradecraft upon which to rely when the unfamiliar terrain instead is that of the heart.
Eisler swoops into the setting like a master film director shooting an extended introductory scene with the camera on a dolly; first here, then there, as the camera follows the character and with no cuts away. This technique can be either magisterial or braggadocio; Eisler to our good fortune is the former.
In this novel, Rain has several assumptions horrifyingly shattered, including one quite crucial to his belief structure. (Hmm, better make that two.) And so he becomes lost, both literally and figuratively; mentally, emotionally, and intellectually. Bereft, even cast adrift -- but never, not even once, abandoned by his friends. (Eisler puts in good time discussing the nature of friendship.) It will require every skill at Rain's command to emerge unscathed, and alive. Without giving away any surprises, Rain is not successful in his multiple quests. Even when he is successful, the result is not what he thought would occur. Is it perhaps the Law of Unintended Consequences that strikes back? Or "He who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind."
This novel represents a departure from the series mold; immediately obvious from the change in title format. No longer foot-loose and fancy-free, Rain feels the weight of the world oppressing his every decision, past, present, and future. Within its pages, Barry Eisler stretches his auctorial wings, taking his readers on a flight of fancy with characters we care about: how they live and die, as much as whether they live or die.
THE LAST ASSASSIN, will be published on 1 June. Buy it. Read it. Enjoy it.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist