John Rain is back. Which means somebody is about to die.
Barry Eisler’s Asian-American assassin, dubbed “the best cool killer” in some thirty years by the San Francisco Chronicle (well, since The Eiger Sanction, with its killer portrayed by Clint Eastwood on the silver screen), returns for his third adventure. This one finds Rain living quietly in Brazil in a carefully crafted identity he hopes will let him leave his past behind him. But despite his attention to every detail, his hidden romantic streak won’t allow him to leave well enough alone: he finds he must visit Naomi, a woman from his past, a woman for whom he harbors “feelings” which are dangerous to a man in his profession. He thinks he’s secure enough, that he’s waited long enough, that the trail has gone cold and his identity is secure. But he’s wrong.
The result: willingly or not, Naomi reveals his whereabouts. Shortly thereafter, Rain receives a visit from a freelancer for the “Christians in Action” (i.e., the CIA), with a lucrative offer for another of his patented “kills” that looks like the result of natural causes. Rain isn’t particularly inclined to work for the CIA, largely because he doesn’t like working for large organizations (as he puts it at one point in the early going, the right hand often doesn’t know what the left hand is doing – in retrospect, an effective bit of foreshadowing).
An old contact with the CIA wants to take out a ruthless and shadowy arms dealer who supplies weapons to various criminal groups worldwide. Since the dealer spends a fair amount of time in Macau’s glitzy casinos, and given Rain’s ability to operate unnoticed in Asia (the result of his Asian-American heritage), they think Rain is the perfect man for the job – as long as the fellow dies a “natural death.” Since his Brazilian cover has been blown, he can no longer trust Naomi, and he has a need to replenish his financial reserves, Rain reluctantly agrees.
He ends up in a posh Macau hotel, a rented Japanese prostitute on his arm for cover, waiting for Belghazi, the arms dealer, to show up. Things start to go sour almost immediately, however, as Rain recognizes the presence of another operative loitering in the hotel as well. He shadows the guy and tries to take him down for information, but in the resulting conflict is forced to kill the man with his bare hands (Rain is an exceptionally proficient student of the martial arts).
When Belghazi does show up, Rain recognizes additional layers of danger: Belghazi is an exceptionally aware target, a dangerous man in his own right. And the trophy blonde on his arm seems remarkably aware of her surroundings as well, which signals to Rain that he will have to be at the top of his game. As his efforts play out against the glitz of Macau’s casinos and the dark realities of its grimy underbelly, he ends up in an uneasy “alliance” with the blonde, an unknown operative named Delilah with an agenda all her own. And he also learns that his fears about the CIA were not unfounded: there may well be some folks in high places who don’t want Belghazi taken out at all, and they are playing their own games with Rain’s life.
Rain Storm was an excellent read. While exceptionally violent in many respects, it was not graphically so. Instead, the violence played itself out in a very clinical fashion: Rain is a cold-blooded killer, after all. Whether it is strangling a man with his bare hands, carefully planning a “natural” murder, or casually finishing a downed assailant with his own gun, Rain moves through this dark world like a shark in sheep’s clothing, an incredibly capable killer masked to appear like just another ordinary man.
Ultimately, however, it is in little moments where Eisler really manages to make the book compelling. For example, in reading the internal debate Rain has about whether he can trust Delilah, and the non-stop mental gymnastics he has to engage in to determine whether she – or virtually anyone else he meets – might somehow be playing him in some fashion, we see the draining emotional effect thirty years of violence and death can have on the psyche. Or in the discussion between Rain and another military character, a freelance fellow named Dox who Rain thinks might be setting him up, amd Rain muses about why he served in the U.S. military in Vietnam, fighting against the “gooks” and “zipperheads,” which again adds layers of personality to the action.
This isn’t one of those thrillers you end up thinking was written in the novelistic equivalent of a paint-by-numbers routine. Rain is an engaging character in a brutal profession, a man seemingly divorced from emotion who ends up surprised when either he or someone else demonstrate actual feelings. Here again, Eisler manages to make emotional transitions work when in the hands of someone else they might seem trite or ridiculous. I am often amazed at novels featuring supposedly hardened characters who suddenly start acting like Polyanna or something, and Eisler doesn’t do that. Instead, he carefully reveals that his hardened characters are still like everybody else: namely, they’re human, and they do have emotions. They just display them differently.
The plot is explosive, the twists and turns create a labyrinthine maze, and the narrative prose literally propels you forward through a dark and uncertain world. More importantly, John Rain is a multifaceted etching of a man trapped in a world of violence he’d love to leave behind, a man reaching forever toward the mirage of redemption, but who finds it impossible to stop looking over his shoulder because the violence has corroded his soul.
It is highly recommended.
Another Blogcritics review of Rain Storm was posted by David Montgomery.
Author’s Note: The author wastes a considerable amount writing about a variety of topics over at Walloworld.