With Requiem for an Assassin, the latest in his series about half-Japanese, half-American assassin John Rain, Barry Eisler has produced one of those thrillers that is hard to put down even when you need to, say, go to work or sleep. This book served as my introduction to Eisler but I am definitely going to go back to read some of his earlier novels. The book is not flawless – Patrick Anderson in The Washington Post notes one plot hole – but it's definitely an exciting heart-pounding thriller in every sense of the word.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Eisler recently via email.
What did you set out to do with this book? Did you achieve that goal?
On the most obvious level, I set out write a thrilling story. Judging from most reviews and reader reactions, I've succeeded.
But the thrill is more the end… the means I wanted were a deeper exploration of some of John Rain's internal conflicts, a crisis produced by the desires of his heart and the imperatives of his nature. I think these means were successful, too, but leave it to readers to decide for themselves.
This book is part of a series, right? I must confess I have not read the others in this series. Would you summarize for me, and the readers of this interview, what has happened so far in this series and what this book is about?
Yes, Requiem is the sixth book in a thriller series about a half-Japanese, half-American assassin named John Rain, whose specialty is making the hit look like natural causes. In the first book, Rain Fall, Rain is living an isolated existence in Tokyo, aloof from the society around him. As the series progresses, he begins to form attachments — a friend and partner, former Marine sniper Dox; and a lover, Mossad agent Delilah. Those attachments create complications for him, and never more severely than in Requiem.
What kind of research did you do for this book? I am particularly curious about the topic of torture during war-time since that came, I think, after you left the CIA. Was that something you saw done or researched by interviewing others or what?
As always, I visit all the places I write about and describe things as I find them. I also talk to experts on a variety of topics, in this case, various forms of interrogation.
As a former CIA covert agent do you have any thoughts on what happened to Valerie Plame?
Classic case of the cover-up being worse than the crime. In fact, here there was no underlying crime. When Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, published his New York Times op-ed to the effect that Saddam Hussein had no nukes, Cheney and company decided to respond not substantively, but by undermining his credibility. They leaked that Wilson had no nuclear expertise, and in fact owed his mission to nepotism — a wife at the CIA.
Afterward, someone said, "Oops, were we allowed to mention his wife's employment? Is she covert?" At that point, they could have owned up and apologized, and the story would have been over then and there. Instead, they decided to lie and stonewall. A common reaction among politicians.
You crossed my radar screen when you sent a message to me via my MySpace page. How have you used the Internet and sites like MySpace to market and publicize your books?
On MySpace, I try to find people who like books like mine. For example, people who like Lee Child's Jack Reacher series tend to like John Rain, and vice versa. Now I've got a discussion forum on my website, where people I've met on MySpace and elsewhere can talk to each other, rather than just talking to me. It's a lot of fun.
What kind of work did you do before becoming a novelist?
I had a covert position in the CIA; then was an associate in a 600-lawyer law firm; then was an executive in a four-person Silicon Valley start-up; then finally found a way to work for myself.
What is the biggest misconception people have about you?
If they've read the books and haven't met me, they're sometimes surprised that I'm so friendly. They expect me to be more like John Rain.
About the CIA?
That all covert operatives are assassins and once you're in, you can never get out.
What is the hardest part about writing the books about Rain?
Finding time amidst all the promotion…