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Sunday, June 24, 2007

When Rain drops in, expect a downpour


REQUIEM FOR AN ASSASSIN by Barry Eisler. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2007, 356 pp., $24.95 (cloth)

Freelance assassin John Rain, featured in five previous works by Barry Eisler, is running out of enemies in Japan. And friends as well. Several books back, his computer geek buddy Harry was set up by a lovely seductress. Then Tatsu, Rain's mentor at National Police Agency, died of cancer, leaving the biracial, multilingual, high-tech hit man for hire increasingly detached from Japan.

The yakuza hoods and corrupt bureaucrats with whom Rain previously contended have departed the scene — usually horizontally and feet first — leaving Rain's tasks in Japan pretty much completed.

Likewise, Rain has also abandoned the notion of getting back together with his old flame Midori. He is now engaged in a torrid romance with Delilah, a beautiful and deadly Mossad operative whom Rain first encountered, and nearly killed, in Macau.

Increasingly, Eisler's plots cover a wider scope and involve the thwarting of terrorist intrigues, which have become de rigueur in today's post-9/11 thrillers.

In "Requiem," a renegade CIA agent named Hilger has abducted Dox, the former U.S. Marine sniper who has earned Rain's trust. Hilger demands that Rain assassinate three individuals, under seemingly impossible time constraints, or Dox will be terminated. Rain must struggle between business and personal sentiment. Will he remain the perennial lone wolf, or is a friend worth risking his life for?

Rain opts for the latter, but instinctively senses that he himself has been tabbed as the vindictive Hilger's third victim. With draconian counterterrorist efforts in effect worldwide, Rain goes on the hunt while making exceptional efforts to cover his trail, from disposable identities to use-and-discard cell phones.

By figuring out the reason why Hilger singled out the two men to be killed, Rain uncovers a larger, more insidious plot.

Delilah, unlike her biblical namesake, urges her compatriots to trust Rain, and they supply him with some high-tech weaponry with which to whack the no-goodniks. Which I guess goes to show that girl and ninjo do go well with bagels and lox.

A sure sign of Eisler's craft is the way he spins new and seemingly impossible predicaments from which his protagonist must emerge intact. His works continue to improve, without lapsing into the coziness so common with series characters. As opposed to stock thrillers that reach a climax followed by the usual happy ending, in "Requiem," Eisler strings together several climaxes, giving readers a few extra pops. And they're all good ones.



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