Sunday, July 25, 2010

BOOKS: Rain Fall by Barry Eisler

My sister-in-law Lucy was kidding me a couple of weeks ago about my list of books I wanted for my birthday. At least one, maybe two, could loosely be termed romances. Both were actually fantasies with slight romantic side-plots, including one that I was sold on by the cover alone. It had a dirigible.

I'm deathly afraid of high heights, as any sentient non-bird should be. But I love dirigibles and airships, or anything like them. So I read the likes of Kenneth Oppel. My family has had boats forever. I haven't been on one in decades. When I was younger and had no choice, I huddled in the middle of the boat, absolutely sure that if I looked over the the sides, my glasses would fall off and sink all the way to China. So I read the marine thrillers Clive Cussler writes. I'm bad, REALLY bad at taking orders. So I like the military SF of Elizabeth Moon and David Weber, amongst others. I haven't been close to being an athlete in a LOOOOOOONNNNNGGGG time. But as a former sportswriter, PA announcer AND coach for teams from Canada in several sports, I read whatever sports books come across the transom.

In other words, I read what I won't/can't do myself.

So, let me tell you about assassin John Rain, the star of Barry Eisler's series kickoff, Rain Fall. (You KNEW I was going to get to the review part of this eventually). He's half-American and mostly Japanese, as Yogi Berra would probably describe it. Born of an American mother and a Japanese father who got together in the aftermath of the second World War, Rain, aka Junichi Fujiwara, was born there, but spent his formative years in the States. He opted to enlist near the tail end of the Vietnam War and became a killing machine on behalf of his Motherland. And when that war ended, he didn't have anywhere to go, but into the mercenary profession. Eventually, he specialized in killing for hire.

This would normally make Rain a villain. At least a disagreeable sort. But there is something about hitmen who star in novels. They tend to be good people, if you can get around their little problem with what they do for a living. I offer you the Keller novels by Lawrence Block, for example. And Rain is another hitman with a heart of gold, so to speak. In Rain Man, the first of a long-running series, Rain arranges for the fatal heart attack of a man in Tokyo, only to end up in serious like with the man's daughter before too many more pages have gone by.

The man Rain killed was a whistle-blower after a lifetime being part of the crooked political process in Japan. Variously, a Forbes Magazine writer, the CIA, the Japanese equivalent of the FBI and the big boss of an extreme right wing Japanese political party all want the evidence the dead man was supposedly carrying on his person at the time of his death. Since the evidence is missing for MOST of the book, the various factions all think Rain and Midori, the beautiful pianist daughter of the initial target, have the evidence.

What we then get is typical thriller stuff. A tour of Japan's highlights and lowlights follows, including a platonic visit or three to love hotels by the duo on the lam. Eisler gives us both the Japanese and English sides of most conversations, no matter which language is being used at the moment. It's actually quite good as a travelogue. And the action bits are the kind of scenes you would expect for the local, lots of martial arts and Jackie Chan daring do. If Eisler didn't resort to his detective-like hero having a serious jones for jazz music (Do ALL similar heroes HAVE to love jazz and/or the blues?), I'd have to look hard for something to complain about.

I quite liked the book and intend on following up on the story of Rain, who was told in polite, but firm tones, that he was persona non grata in his Fatherland at the conclusion of the book. Unless he was to lend his unusual talents to the inscrutable (cliche, I know, but ...) policeman who ends up the winner in the free-for-all for the evidence.

I'll miss Midori, though.

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