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From The Asian Reporter, V14, #44 (October 26, 2004), page 17.

Secret agents and free agents

Rain Storm

By Barry Eisler

G.P. Putnamís Sons, 2004

Hardcover, 341 pages, $24.95

By Andrew J. Weber

We used to know who our enemies were. During the Cold War there was a clear line between the good guys and the bad guys, and it was no exaggeration to say you were either with us or against us.

All that changed on 9/11. Itís a new world, and Barry Eisler has updated the thriller genre to match. Following right on the heels of Rain Fall (2002) and Hard Rain (2003), Rain Storm is the third installment in the John Rain series. Patrolling a stylized, noir landscape, freelance killer-for-hire John Rain works among shady individuals who act only for themselves and to whom loyalty means serving todayís highest bidder ó but donít expect anything tomorrow.

All spy novels are ultimately formulaic, and Eisler follows the conventions well enough for anyone to enjoy this book, whether they have read the previous two volumes or not. If we donít know too many specific details about John Rain, we nonetheless know his type.

However, Eisler adds a few twists to extend the formula, modernizing it and making it his own. A mysterious figure from Rainís past suddenly returns and reveals he has trained the mujahideen in Afghanistan, which does nothing to illuminate whether he is a force for good or evil. When Rain finally beds the femme fatale, fulfilling a genre requirement, he is relieved to find he doesnít need Viagra ó certainly not a genre requirement.

John Rain might feel just as at home at a PTA meeting as on the stage of international intrigue. He drinks fruit smoothies, runs background checks on Google, and worries about his lack of 401K plan. However, he is no soft-in-the-middle yuppie; he is in demand for his exceptional ability to leave his victims dead from apparently natural causes, his martial-arts skills honed at the Gracie School and his surgically enhanced Japanese- American features allowing him to work in Asia without suspicion.

In a globalized world, that sort of freedom pays big dividends. The story leaps from Macau to Hong Kong to Brazil and back again, with Rain in pursuit of targets that may or may not be tied to Islamic terrorists hoping to strike in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In its fast-paced geographic sweep, Hard Rain also touches on Azerbaijani and Armenian troops in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, South Ossetian separatists in Georgia, and Transdniester freedom-fighters in Moldova.

Got that? Donít worry, this book is not a pedantic exercise in locating little-known hot-spots around the world. Eislerís prose is fast and engaging, and you will be too swept up in the story to care whether you can track all of the competing interests. If itís never clear who the bad guys (or even the good guys) are representing, you are nonetheless behind Rain all the way, and youíll be too busy turning pages to wonder about the moral issues.

In todayís world, where extremes have faded to shades of grey, Hard Rain offers a deeply seductive fantasy: if we would only do "Whatever it takes" our new enemies would quickly disappear. Like Dirty Harry on the streets of San Francisco, John Rain is a man who can get results.

Of course, the real world doesnít work that way, no matter how much weíd like it to. Freedom from constraints might garner positive outcomes but it can also start international incidents, as recent headlines can attest. Like it or not, easy answers are fiction. At least they can be great fiction.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books