Sunday, February 16, 2014

Graveyard of Memories by Barry Eisler

A young man with no roots. A CIA agent manipulating government officials. A handicapped girl. Organized crime. These are the elements that make up Graveyard of Memories, the new John Rain thriller from Barry Eisler. This novel takes us back to the start of Rain’s career as an assassin. At the start of the novel John is a half Japanese, half American veteran of the war in Vietnam. He has returned to Japan, the land of his birth. He is working as a bad man for the CIA. He makes regular cash drops to a contact. He is told nothing and asks no questions. 

Everything falls apart when a group of punks jump him. As a cocky young agent he decides to take them on. In the fight he drops one of the punks hard on the pavement and kills him. The police don’t care, but there is a hitch. The punk he killed was the nephew of a powerful Yakuza boss. After an attempt on his life, Rain decides that the only way to stay in Japan is if the yakuza boss is dead. So he asks his handler for information needed to track the boss down. His handler agrees, but only if Rain will first kill a government official and make it look like an accident. Rain agrees and carries out his first hit.

Everything seems to go well as he embarks on his personal mission. Too well. Now he is suspicious of every one around him. To make matters more complicated he falls for Sayaka, a young Korean girl in a wheelchair. This young woman will introduce him to one of the passions that will define his later life: jazz music.

This book will set the stage for the man that Rain will become. At the beginning of the book he is a raw and untrained. As the story progresses he realizes that he must learn to pay attention or die. Eisler does an excellent job in developing his character. At the start he is young, arrogant, and not the most likable character. As the story progresses he grows quickly.

One of the most impressive parts of the book is Rain’s relationship with Sayaka. Eisler’s treatment of the difficulties facing a wheelchair bound young woman is moving and powerful. The young John Rain may be a bit of a blundering doofus at times, but the tenderness and passion he shows towards Sayaka help to both grow the character and our liking for the character. It is fascinating to watch this character kill several people with alarming skill and confidence, then to turn into a bumbling fool when trying to interact with this young woman. 

This is a very enjoyable novel. The story is based around real life events. The CIA was heavily involved in “financing” Japanese politics in the 1960s and the 1970s. Eisler was meticulous in his research about Tokyo in 1972, the year this novel takes place. He makes the city come alive for those of us who know little of the city or the culture. Most importantly the characters are fascinating and well written. All of the research, steamy sex scenes, and great action would not mean a thing if it wasn’t for the characters. Do yourself a favor. Get this book and get ready to have a good time.  This was my first Rain novel, but I can guarantee you that it will not be my last. 

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