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John Rain is a legendary assassin created by Barry Eisler. This time, similar to other authors who have created legendary fictional heroes (Lee Child/Jack Reacher, Daniel Silva/Gabriel Allon, Vince Flynn/Mitch Rapp) Eisler takes us back to the early days when the hero was learning his "trade". In 1972 John Rain was just twenty and trying to find his way in a world that found it difficult to accept a part Japanese/American who was fresh from the killing fields of Indo-China.
Settling temporarily in Tokyo he takes a job for the CIA delivering cash to corrupt parts of the Japanese administration. In his spare time Rain learns Judo to black belt level to augment his already considerable wrestling skills. One day one of his bag swaps goes wrong and he is confronted, and defeats some thugs and comes up against vengeance from most powerful gang in Japan, the Yakuza. Things get worse when the Yakuza send one of their most skilled Judo operators to eliminate Rain.
Rain goes into hiding in a back-street "Love Hotel" and meets Sayaka, a tough, beautiful enigmatic ethnic Korean woman confined to a wheelchair. To survive he makes a pact with the CIA to take out a high-profile target in exchange for information about his pursuers. Rain is resourceful and dangerous but still immature and sensitive and has not yet acquired all of the tradecraft and skills which will keep him alive in his newly found dark profession. As Rain tangles with the Yakuza and the CIA, with Sayaka's life is in danger Rain has to cope with more than he is prepared for.
What I really liked about this book was Barry Eisler's absorption of the story into the rapidly changing post-war world of Tokyo in the early 70's. We lived for a couple of years in Tokyo in the early 80's and I could identify closely with a lot of the environment that still survived at that time, especially in the backstreets. The places, the people and the urban landscape were so familiar to me and so well drawn.
I have read a lot of books about fictional assassins but John Rain is one of the most thoughtful, sensitive and personable characters in that kind of dark world. Some of the early days stories by other authors I mentioned at the start of the review were no more than sidetracks to keep the character alive. This one was essential to tell us more about where Rain came from and how he evolved into the complex character he eventually becomes. If you like this kind of thriller then it is a must read.