(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky JUL 15, 2005)
John Rain is the Japanese-American action hero of Rain Storm, Barry Eisler's third installment in his series about a deadly killer for hire. This time around, the CIA has hired Rain to take out an arms dealer named Belghazi, who is supplying munitions to fundamentalist terrorists groups. The only catch is that, if Rain wants to be paid, he must make the hit appear "natural" to the outside world. Since Belghazi is a suspicious man and a martial arts expert who is heavily guarded, Rain has his work cut out for him.
Rain Storm is everything a spy novel should be. It takes place in exotic locales, such as Macau, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Brazil, and, using vivid descriptive writing, Eisler takes the time to describe each place in detail. Rain is a terrific protagonist. He is strong, cunning, schooled in exotic martial arts, and he trusts no one. Wherever he goes, Rain watches his back, and he has many weapons in his arsenal to deflect attacks from potential assailants. Rain, like so many other killers for hire, is at heart an isolated man who cannot sustain a relationship for long. He has to keep moving to protect himself from his enemies, and he is tormented by the many killings that he has committed over the years.
What would an action novel be without beautiful women? There are several in this book, and one is a mysterious operative with impressive credentials, both in and out of the bedroom. There is also a dizzying plot, with twists and turns galore, complicated political machinations, and exciting fight sequences. It's fun to observe Rain conducting surveillance, tracking his prey, or adopting a clever disguise at the drop of a hat. John Rain is a tough man with a sharp mind, who practices his craft with uncommon skill. His exploits make Rain Storm a very entertaining and absorbing novel.
- Amazon readers rating: from 60 reviews
(Reviewed by Judi Clark NOV 12, 2002)
"I insist on only a few questions. Is the target a man? I don't work against women or children. Have you retained anyone else to solve this problem? I don't want my operation getting tripped up by someone's idea of a B-team, if you retain me, it's an exclusive. And is the target a principle? I resolve problems directly, like the soldier I once was, not by sending messages through uninvolved third parties like a terrorist."
John Rain is a paid assassin whose specialty is to arrange deaths that look like they happened by natural cause. Half Japanese, half American, he now lives in Tokyo. As an ainoko or half-breed, he's always been a loner. The Japanese kids bullied him for not being pure. Then, after his father died, his mother brought him to America,where his schoolmates further ostracized him as an outsider. Still he served in Vietnam, where he trained as a mercenary for the U.S Special Forces. At one point he would have considered himself a Samurai for the U.S. government, sincerely pledging his service for the higher good. But something happened that changed that, changed him. So after Vietnam, he took advantage of his legacy and went to work as a bagman for the CIA in Japan. His assignation business started when the CIA needed to get rid of someone in the US supported Liberal Democratic Party, for getting a little too greedy. Rain declined the job but said he knew someone who could. Thus begin his new underground identity. In time, he had his eyes surgically altered to look more Japanese, grew his hair, dyed it from brown to black and donned glasses, disguising his warrior-self with a studious look. Posing as a businessman, he's crafted a life of complete anonymity or maybe better put, invisibility.
We certainly see the expense of this kind of life. Every time he steps out the door he goes through an elaborate Surveillance Detection Run (SDR) to make sure that no one is following him. As the novel is narrated by Rain, he tells us all the tricks of his trade and of his SDR ritual. Never does he go from point a to point b without checking; "I never assume that because I was clean earlier that I am clean now." All of this maneuvering is both exhausting and fascinating and from the first pages of the novel, I was hooked on this character.
The novel opens with John Rain and his assistant, Harry, tag-trailing Yashuhiro Kawamura, the vice minister of land and infrastructure, along the busy Dogenzaka street, through the intersection and then to the train station. At this point, Harry drops off and Rain, solo, continues onto the train to finish the job. Harry is Rain's assistant, a veteran computer hacker with invaluable skills. And as Rain tells us, "Harry thinks I'm a private investigator and that all I do is follow these people around collecting information." Thus he takes special precaution to make sure that Harry doesn't catch on to his real business. For example, he makes sure that not all of the people that Harry trails die and of those that do, Rain often uses fake names for those targets. John doesn't want to think about what he'll need to do if Harry makes the connection; he likes Harry.
Once again, John Rain is successful and his target has an apparent heart attack just as the train slows to a boarding platform. Job done, Rain exits. But when he looks back he sees the man who boarded just as Kawamura died, searching through the dead man's pockets. Was this Western man a contact that Kawamura was to meet or a B-team planted against his rules?
Ten days later he learns that Kawamura's apartment was searched during his funeral (compliments of Harry's hacking) by none other than a very old friend of his, a man he calls Tatsu, a man whom Rain respects as a true Samurai. When Rain went underground he had to stop seeing his good friend and for good cause. Rain has unoffocially seen reports written by Tatsu claiming that a conspiracy in which a very skilled hired assassin kills people for the government, but makes the death look like a natural cause. As Rain says, "I felt my old comrade in arms watching me as though through a one-way mirror, seeing a shape behind the glass but not knowing whose, I was glad that I'd decided to drop off his radar so many years earlier."
Then, that evening, in his usual SDR mode of travel, Rain decides to go to his favorite raibo house, to hear some live music. It's a popular place, but he knows Mama, the owner, so he gets in easily. When Mama tells him that the jazz pianist is a woman by the name of Kawamura Midori, he does not make the connection, until Mama adds that she lost her father a week and a half earlier. During intermission Mama insists that he go talk to her, an awkward situation for him considering his role in her father's death. Nevertheless, he is very attracted to this musician who plays like an "angry Theolonius Monk." Then the stranger from the train, the man who had searched Kawamura's pockets, comes into the club. And things only just begin to get more complicated.
So let me stop here before I give away any more of this good old- fashioned hit-man thriller plot, one that gets more and more involved as you turn the pages. One that will have you undoubtedly cry foul when our careful protagonist fumbles, precipitating an ending that you wish could have turned out differently, but then you know that this man is a loner from birth, so how else could it be? The good news is, the ending also gives a wide berth for many possible sequels, a chance for the ronin to turn samurai and fight the good fight against a corrupt government.
Barry Eisler's style is engaging because he lets us experience Tokyo first hand through the protagonist, and because we are always being instructed on the art of his anonymous life --- especially as we watch it unravel. Just reading the excerpt you will notice his knack for capturing the nuances of walking in the busy city (never mind trying to do surveillance): "The Dogenzaka intersection is like this day or night, when the light turns green, over three hundred people step off the curb at the instant with another twenty-five thousand waiting in the crush. From here on, it was going to be shoulder to shoulder, chest to back." Or his delight when Kawamura stops to light a cigarette, which tells him that the man is doing his own SDR (and thus no hired help). "Japanese don't stop to light cigarettes; if they did, they'd lose weeks over the course of their adult lives." Or his comments on the differences in our two cultures, as when Harry gives him a run down on Kawamura: "He was a Liberal Democratic Party lifer. Graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1960, political science major, went straight to the government along with the rest of the cream of the crop." And Rain points out, "The States could learn something from this. There, the government gets the college rejects."
I really could go on and on.
According to those in the know, this is the real thing when it comes to depicting the Japanese culture and is thereby highly recommended by both Americans who lived in Tokyo and Japanese who have read the translated version. Saying that, however, makes the plot ending a little less settling. What if there is a ring of truth to the Japanese xenophobia and racism, and that there is an ostensible government effort to return to the prewar Imperialism prescripts? Barry Eisler just might have uncovered the perfect cold war replacement plot required for a good thriller.
- Amazon readers rating: from 147 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Rain Fall at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Rain Fall (2002)
- Hard Rain (2003)
- Rain Storm (2004)
- Killing Rain (2005)
- The Last Assassin (2006)
- Requiem for an Assassin (2007)
- Inside Out (2010)
- The Detachment (2011)
- Fault Line (2009)
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- The Official Web site for Barry Eisler
- Back story on Killing Rain
- MostlyFiction.com review of Fault Line
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About the Author:
Barry Eisler spent three years with the U.S. government after graduating from Cornell Law School in 1989. From 1992 to the present he has practiced various aspects of international law, including a year with the Japanese law firm of Hamada & Matsumoto in Tokyo and two years as in-house counsel at the Osaka headquarters of Matsushita Electric & Industrial Co., Ltd. Mr. Eisler earned his black belt in judo from the Kodokan International Judo Center in Tokyo.
Today he lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area and travels to Japan frequently on business.