Barry Eisler Essay - Critical Essays


Barry Eisler’s John Rain, a Japanese American trained in the martial arts, is at home in Japan and other parts of Asia. He provides an international perspective as he involves himself with intelligence agencies such as the Mossad, the Israeli covert organization that uses assassination as a political weapon. Rain realizes that his work will someday result in a reckoning for him even as he searches for ways to retreat from his bloody profession. He has a moral center that he cannot escape; in other words, he is a redeemable character. The problem is how to survive in the dangerous world he has made for himself. In this respect, quite aside from the gruesome details of his trade, his problems are universal. He is involved in the human predicament, attempting to construct not only a viable and authentic identity but also a place for himself in a world that includes love and family. Although his efforts to do right fail, he brutally confronts the nature of his crimes and earns considerable respect.

Rain Fall

Rain Fall (2002), the first John Rain novel, conveys Eisler’s deep immersion in Japanese culture. As one reviewer put it, the fiction is “rich and atmospheric.” Rain is a Vietnam War veteran, trained by Special Forces. He is an alienated hero, however, not entirely comfortable with his Japanese father or his American mother, and tortured by memories of atrocities he committed in Vietnam.

Rain specializes in making assassinations look like natural events. On a subway, he plants a microchip on the back of a bureaucrat, thus interfering with the frequency of the man’s pacemaker and inducing a fatal heart attack. Rain’s trouble begins when he realizes that he has murdered a man about to expose Japanese political corruption. At the same time, Rain is also at cross-purposes with a CIA agent who was trouble for him in Vietnam. Even worse, he falls in love with his victim’s daughter, Midori, who is an accomplished jazz pianist. The consequences of this assassination and of this love affair, which ends badly, continue to plague Rain in subsequent novels.

Eisler’s evocation of the intricate love-hate relationship between Japan and America, the complexities of the Japanese criminal classes, including a right-wing guru and his spies, and the complications ensuing when a Japanese police officer investigates Rain’s activities, all combine to present a riveting exploration of international intrigue. Some reviewers lauded Eisler’s plotting but felt some of the characters were not very well developed. However, Eisler’s command of procedure—of how crimes are planned and committed—and his portrayal of exotic places made this first novel an impressive achievement.

Hard Rain

This second novel in the John Rain series, Hard Rain (2003), draws on Eisler’s experience in the CIA. Always a loner, Rain seems even more isolated when he is implicated...

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