Nothing quite equals lying in the summer sun—having already paid your dues to the multinational corporations for exorbitantly priced gasoline, ridiculously priced motels and, if things continue as they have, beach sand itself that costs money—and reading a good book about one man alone fighting the insidious system.
So consider this man, Nicholai Alexandrovitch Hel, hero of [Shibumi], as he confronts for the first time the hatchet man of the megalomaniacal—and successfully so—Mother Company. (Mother's man is named Jack O. Diamond, Trevanian never having been terribly subtle with names.)
Diamond is dispatched to stop Hel from using his unique prowess to halt the PLO from skyjacking a Concorde. As distasteful as the Mother Company (a consortium of the multinational oil interests) may find the Arab terrorists, they must be coddled to keep the Arab petro-states happy….
Though Hel is the central figure in a book marred by a cast of caricatures and obvious plotting, he is one of the most interesting fantasy figures to appear in recent thriller fiction. To the considerable extent that Shibumi is a character study of Hel, it is one hell of a pleasure to read.
Trevanian obviously set out, albeit with tongue in cheek, to create a superman to oppose the supersystem. (p. E1)
Detailed gut-wrenching action has been the cornerstone of Trevanian's previous books—The Eiger Sanction, The Loo Sanction and The Main. But here Trevanian leaves most of that potential action to the reader's imagination without diminishing the pace of the story….
If only the other characters were more fully realized, there would be little to fault in this thriller. But basically, whether they are CIA operatives or Arab terrorists in training, Basque innkeepers or adventurous poets, they are paper-thin personalities to which the author constantly condescends, paradoxically, because they are so transparent and obvious.
Such hauteur sits well with Hel, but not with the author, whose arrogant tone seems directed as much at the reader as anyone else, and is often less amusing than tedious. The language and multilingual references drawn from obvious research tend to inure rather than impress.
Nevertheless nothing can diminish one's admiration and envy for Hel, and the reader is left hoping—as the last page is turned and the volume stowed in the beach bag—that Hel may soon be met again conquering another time in fantasy, the unconquerable system. (p. E4)
Christopher Dickey, "Loner against the System," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1979, The Washington Post), June 3, 1979, pp. E1, E4.