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From The Asian Reporter, V16, #29 (July 18, 2006), page 13.
The forecast calls for continuing Rain
The Last Assassin
By Barry Eisler
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2006
Hardcover, 338 pages, $24.95
By Andrew J. Weber
With The Last Assassin, the fifth John Rain adventure, Barry Eisler peels back another layer of the intrigue surrounding his fictional killer for hire. Specifically, Eisler reveals a little more of his own personal history, the birthplace of the vivid action scenes, exotic international locales, and realistic details that are the enduring hallmarks of the John Rain franchise.
When the previous novel in the series was published in 2005 (Killing Rain), Eisler ended much of the speculation among his legions of fans by admitting that he had indeed once worked for the CIA. Now he provides some further details of what that entailed: He served for three years with the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, with training in weapons, hand-to-hand combat, improvised explosive devices, surveillance, counter-terrorism, interrogation and manipulation techniques, and a host of other skills that it’s safe to say are not taught in any adult education class offered by the local community college.
Most likely Eisler was never a paid assassin like his literary alter ego, but he certainly knows the territory. However, Eisler has a conventional side as well, and is a family man with a wife. He earned a law degree from Cornell and had a résumé full of quotidian jobs before he started his career in espionage. Having left the real-world spy game behind to immerse himself fully in developing his fictional one, he now makes his living as a full-time writer.
In The Last Assassin, John Rain faces the same decisions that Eisler himself must have faced, torn between the exciting but dangerous world of his chosen profession and the comforts and safety of living as a common man. For Rain, the temptation of forgetting the sins of his past to find redemption with his former lover Midori and his newly discovered son, Koichiro, is enough to make him want to fade into civilian life for good.
But followers of the series will know that such thoughts on the part of John Rain are essentially a fantasy. He may be sincere in his intention to give up the assassin’s life, but that life won’t let him go easily. Besides, there is a sizable audience to please, and the formula that worked well in the previous novels will not be abandoned here.
It’s not long before Rain is skipping from Barcelona to New York to Tokyo and back again, both hunter and hunted as he tries to wipe out his enemies before they can wipe out him (and his new family) first. Along the way he receives assistance and advice from old friends Dox, the former marine sniper, Tatsu, the Japanese FBI operative, and Delilah, the beautiful Israeli agent who represents a different kind of temptation altogether. Many of the bad guys unfortunate enough to cross his path will meet untimely ends via Rain’s signature killings, which blend tactical inventiveness, high-tech weaponry, and unorthodox martial arts.
It’s not unfair to say that The Last Assassin is built on a standard thriller cliché — the aging veteran out to complete one last mission before riding off into the sunset. Yet Eisler manages to avoid most of the pitfalls of treading such well-worn ground and works thoughtful elements into the story, even if only as a background to the non-stop action. Rain’s predicament sheds light on the universal themes of human nature, self-acceptance, and ultimate mortality — heady stuff for a popular thriller. Rain has to question whether he can stop being the assassin he is, to become the husband and father he wants to be.
Of course, asking the right questions is a great first step, but it doesn’t mean that there are any answers provided, or even any to be found. There are certainly none provided here, which means Rain (and the reader) is left waiting for the next installment for resolution. John Rain may be the last assassin, but The Last Assassin is not the last we’ve heard of John Rain.
Barry Eisler will appear at 7:00pm on Wednesday, August 2 at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Clackamas Town Center (12000 S.E. 82nd Avenue, Portland). For more information, call (503) 786-3464.