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Hard Rain – by Barry Eisler

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John Rain, the protagonist of this hard-nosed espionage/adventure novel, is new to me, although there are two previous books in the series, “Rain Fall” and “Hard Rain.”

Rain is a cynical, romantic, conscientious Japanese-American assassin.

After decades of causing death – first as a soldier in Viet Nam, then in Afghanistan, followed by a stint as a contract agent for the CIA, he tries to go to ground in Brazil.

But his specialty – making an assasination appear to have occurred from natural causes – is too much in demand for the CIA, here cynically referred to as “Christians in Action,” to leave him in peace.

The agency tracks him down and ensnares him in yet another plot, this time to eliminate “with extreme prejudice,” in bureaucrat-ese, a shadowy arms dealer who seems to be playing the terrorist organizations of the Middle East against not one but two warring factions within the CIA.

What makes the book rise above most in its genre, and me certain to read both the first two by Eisler and any that subsequently appear, is his thoughtful, philosophical narrative style.

A few passages from the book, beginning with its opening paragraph:

    The agency had hired me to “retire” Belghazi, not to protect him. So if this didn’t go well, their next candidate for a retirement package would probably be me.

    In my line of work, drawing attention is a serious violation of the laws of common sense, and therefore of survival. Because if someone notices you for one thing, he’ll be inclined to look more closely, at which point he might notice something else. A pattern, which would have remained quietly hidden, might then begin to emerge, after which your cloak of anonymity will be methodically pulled apart, probably to be rewoven into something more closely resembling a shroud.

    Time passed. And, much as I enjoyed it, Rio came to feel like a way station, not a destination; a breather, not the end of the march. There was an aimlessness to my days there, an aimlessness that my focus on jujitsu alleviated but didn’t dispel. From time to time I would remembre Tatsu telling me you can’t retire, spoken with equal parts confidence and sadness, and those words, which I had first taken to be a threat and then understood to be merely a prediction, came in my memory to bear the weight of something else, something more akin to prophecy.

    He glanced to his right, a neurolinguistic sign of imagination, not of recall. He was trying to make something up, to find a way out of the corner he had just painted himself into.

    Yeah, sometimes I can forget, but never for very long. Mostly I look at the innocents around me with disdain. Or resentment. Or envy, when I’m being honest with myself. Always with alienation. Always from a distance that has nothing to do with geography.

    I felt a valve closing over my empathy like a watertight bulkhead. The bulkhead would open later, I knew, as the pressure built behind it, but it would hold long enough for me to finish the matter at hand.

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