Barry Eisler

"Fault Line"

(Reviewed by Jana Perskie MAR 10, 2009)

"You can live in that fantasy world if you want, but how about just a little bit of gratitude for the people who make it possible for you? Who do all that dirty work so you can go on pretending you're clean?"

Richard Hilzoy, the eccentric Silicon Valley inventor of Obsidian, probably the world's most advanced encryption application, is murdered. The murder is set-up to look like a drug related killing. But Hilzoy is a genius techie, not a druggie.

Alex Treven, Hilzoy's patent lawyer, (who is also an electrical engineer with a degree in Computer Science), desperately wants to climb the ladder and make partner at his pricey law firm. Acquiring Hilzoy as a client, could be the answer to his dreams. Treven is waiting for the software designer to show up for a high stakes meeting with a group of venture capitalists...but Hilzoy is a no show.

Alex's friend, Hank Shiffman, the director of a technology center at the Patent and Trademark Office responsible for computer cryptology and security, understands the value of Obsidian. He is keeping Alex informed of the progress of the patent application. Shiffman dies suddenly of a heart attack - soon after Hilzoy's unfortunate demise. But he was a fitness freak and young. A heart attack?

Alex's house is broken into at 2:00 a.m. Fortunately Alex escapes with his life. So who would want an inventor, a patent attorney and a patent office official dead? What do they have in common? Obsidian, right?

Meanwhile, in Istanbul, Alex's estranged brother, Ben, a master sergeant with the Joint Special Operations Command, (and an undercover trained assassin), is in the process of "taking out" two Iranian nuclear scientists and their secret service minders. After Alex's near death experience, he contacts Ben and asks him to return to California and bail him out, something Ben has been doing since the two were small children.

Ben arrives with a chip on his shoulder. Alex receives him with relief and a chip on his shoulder. They bicker, sulk and skirt around the major causes of their mutual hostility. Then they get down to business. The brothers discover, with the help of second generation Iranian American, Sarah Hosseini, aka Shagayegh Hosseini, that all the Obsidian paper work, files, software, back-ups, etc. are missing/or deleted. Sarah is a first year associate at Alex's law firm and another super techie - no dummies in this novel. Ben immediately suspects her of being involved in what could be cyber warfare and espionage, as well as murder, because she has a Muslim name and is Iranian American, naturally. BTW, Sarah is also gorgeous as well as smart. These gifts comes in handy when it's time to further the romantic aspect of the plot.

I have read a few of Barry Eisler's "Rain" thrillers and was favorably impressed. That is why I was so looking forward to reading this new book. I am disappointed. The writing is uneven. The beginning shows promise, then the narrative bogs down. With a few exceptions, the pace doesn't really pick until page 197. C'mon now! The storyline is simplistic. There are no interesting subplots, no unpredictable twists and turns and the characters are fairly one-dimensional.

However, I was/am very interested in the moral and ethical dilemmas Mr. Eisler poses, through the character of Ben, about whether to torture an enemy, a terrorist, to get crucial information that may save thousands of lives or to adhere to the Geneva Convention. He also brings up the question of whether it is ethical to assassinate a potential terrorist...or as in the book, Iranian nuclear scientists. Is torture justifiable if the overall outcome of lives saved is positive? As Ben says, "You want something done but you won't let people do it right." "You can live in that fantasy world if you want, but how about just a little bit of gratitude for the people who make it possible for you? Who do all that dirty work so you can go on pretending you're clean?"

Overall, this book is entertainment-lite, a good read for a plane trip. Specifically, the "War on Terror," along with its associated moral questions about the use of torture and assassination, are well worth thinking about.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 145 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Fault Line at Random House

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About the Author:

Barry EislerBarry 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. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014