Barry Eisler, who is deliberately reticent about supplying details about his life, was born in New Jersey in 1964. His father, Edgar, was an entrepreneur, salesman, and president of an office products company. His mother, Barbara, was a painter, poet, sculptor, nonfiction writer, and volunteer in environmental causes. Eisler attributes his interest in solving mysteries to his reading about Harry Houdini. The great magician and escape artist had secret knowledge, and Eisler was thrilled with the idea of a career that would involve this kind of adventure. He began collecting books on lock picking, breaking and entering, and other clandestine and undetectable forms of crime (killing without using weapons) that are an significant part of John Rain’s assassination tool kit. Houdini’s physical prowess also clearly influenced Eisler, who trained in the martial arts and made these skills another crucial part of Rain’s repertoire.
Eisler received a bachelor of arts degree in 1986 and a juris doctor degree in 1989 from Cornell University. He wrote a column on foreign policy for the school newspaper and early on evinced an interest in fiction. He began writing short stories as a teenager. He spent three years (1989-1922) in the Directorate of Operations of the Central Intellgence Agency (CIA) as a covert operative. He learned spy craft, including surveillance and countersurveillance, antiterrorism tactics, improvising explosive devices, recruiting agents, and interrogation techniques—activities and skills that are crucial to John Rain’s work. Learning Japanese and working in Japan were also part of Eisler’s CIA work.
After leaving the CIA in 1993, Eisler remained in Japan. He studied at Kodokan International Judo Center in Tokyo while immersing himself in the country’s language and culture. His year-long explorations of Tokyo’s streets and back alleys, visiting jazz clubs and whiskey bars, provided him with a feel for the seamier side of the city and of crime that is featured so authentically in his novels. It was through observing this nightlife that Eisler began to think of characters engaged in secret...
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