Requiem for an Assassin

PUBLISHER: Putnam Adult

PAGES: 356


AUTHOR’S WEBSITE: (Be sure to read his fantastic political blog, THE HEART OF THE MATTER while you’re there)

In the first several pages, something magical happens in Requiem for an Assassin: all the exposition you’ll need on the world of this series and the protagonist John Rain is conveyed through an intense action scene and in as few words as possible. Antagonist Jim Hilger and his mercs plan and carry out a kidnapping of Rain’s close friend, and sometimes partner on dangerous jobs, Dox. You quickly learn how dangerous John is because they approach Dox with extreme caution and Hilger warns his men that Rain is even more dangerous than their target. Hilger’s motivations aren’t readily clear on why he wants to get to Rain through Dox, but if you’re patient, it all becomes clear in this sprawling thrilling (probably) last chapter of John Rain’s journey to becoming a better man.

John Rain is one of the most feared assassins in the world because he is just that good and his speciality is making his kills look natural. At the beginning of Requiem, he’s in France with his lover, Mossad agent Delilah and all signs point to the fact that Rain is retired and wants a better life for himself outside of international power-plays and deaths.

So why is he stalking through France’s worst slums practically daring thugs to come after him so he has a reason to use his dark talents?

He’s clearly bored, a caged animal in a civilized world that has no need for men like him, so when Hilger contacts him and tells him that he will kill three people for him or Dox dies, Rain takes the job because he doesn’t want his friend hurt, but there’s a nagging side of him that just wants an excuse, any excuse, to feel what like being in the life is like again after being gone for so long. That’s his real journey in Requiem, he wants to embrace that side of himself, but at the same time, he wants it dead so he can live a normal life, but in his heart of hearts, he knows he’s seen and done too much to live one, or even deserve one. The action scenes, and there’s only a few, are equally thrilling, but when they’re done, John doesn’t feel complete. He knows that he just destroyed a life and he’s at a point where he just can’t walk away feeling nothing, and in the process, the reader feels awful for cheering for him to get the job done.

As for Hilger, the antagonist, he’s a fantastic villain. The closest comparison I can make is Adrian Veidt from Watchmen. He believes that to fix America, America must be broken, its addiction to things like oil forcibly taken from it. He’s an insane zealot, of course, but there were passages where he seemed far more noble than Rain, the man we’re supposed to root for. It’s a brilliant contrast as entire chapters are devoted to Hilger and how passionate he is about his country and the people in it like his sister, while Rain barely cares about the world and believes that he deserves to be alone. There is a sex scene right in the middle of the book told from Delilah’s POV that is driven out of Rain’s grief and shame of himself right after he murders an innocent businessman and he almost begs her to leave him so he doesn’t have to straddle the lines of morality any longer. He sobs that he’s a killer and his kind can’t be in polite society. Its things like this that makes Barry Eisler the best thriller writer around. Rain’s identity and relationships are far more important than the plot that drives Rain’s actions.

It’s not all grim and dour though, most of the humor comes from the kidnapped ex-marine sniper Dox as he taunts his captors between torture sessions, and in this case, Eisler borrows heavily from real events as Dox is repeatedly water-boarded. They’re horrific scenes and to stay sane, he taunts the least in control one in hopes that he slips up and can escape. In a weird way, because Dox is so determined to escape, they’re the lightest parts of Requiem.

But it’s the political elements that annoyed me. In earlier books, Rain never showed his political thoughts and it is jarring in Requiem when he ponders about things like Iraq or torture in prisons like Gitmo. At those times, it no longer felt like a real world and more like Eisler sharing his views on Bush and his various schemes, but in a really un-natural and clumsy way. Was it enough to kill the book for me? No, but it sure was annoying, and every character does it at least once, even the gung-ho military Vet Dox. Eisler is such a great writer, so dense and lean at the same time with wonderful skills of characterization and thrilling action that actually matters rather than just adding another cookie-cutter "Cool" scene that so many hack thriller writers do, so than when I get pulled out of the spell he’s weaving, I’m especially disappointed.

The biggest compliment I can give to this book is that it could comfortably stay in this universe without ruining Rain’s story arc to become someone he’s comfortable being. There’s Boaz, the highly competent (but shy) Mossad agent, or Dox the raunchy Marine Sniper, or there could even be good material to be found in Hilger’s past. Personally, I’m rooting for a novel or two about Delilah as she seems far more in control than any of the other men in these books, no matter how tough they claim to be. She accepts Rain and his world as it and knows that when used right, the skills of the men and women in their world are a necessary evil. At the same time, she condemns it, loving fine food, wine, and art, and Rain admires the hell out of her for being so much wiser than he ever was.

Indeed, he comes to a conclusion at the end and tells Delilah that he has to go stop Hilger, but if he comes out of it alive, he needs her to be around to pull him out of his darkness as he exiles his humanity to get the job done. It’s an earned redemption without resorting to a sappy or overly dour way of ending Rain’s story, or having him go all the way to the side of the angels (in fact, his final act is pretty vile depending on how you read it). This is a wonderful world, and so much could be done with it, but I hope to God that Rain’s story is done, because his journey over six books is so compelling and ends the best possible way it could that it would just be cheap to see Rain again.

NOT AS GOOD AS: John Le Carre


READ IF YOU LIKE: The Jason Bourne movies

8.8 out of 10