Most thrillers seem like fables of super heroes straight out of the comic books. While those tales are fun, they lack a credible connection to reality that can make a story more gripping. Authenticity was part of the appeal of the Ian Fleming books about James Bond when they first appeared. Not since those Bond books do I recall a thriller as solidly based in real places, actual tradecraft, accurately presented martial arts, and the psychology of killing as Requiem for an Assassin.
This is my first John Rain book and I expected to be a little bit lost because I hadn't read the first five. But Mr. Eisler does an excellent job of referring to past developments and characters enough to make this story work just fine as a standalone.
Naturally, having liked this one so much I'm sure to go back and read the earlier books as well. A lot of the action in those books is referred to in Requiem for an Assassin; if you don't want those stories spoiled for you, it may be a good decision to start with the beginning of the series. The order of the series is Rain Fall, Hard Rain, Rain Storm, Killing Rain, and The Last Assassin.
As this story opens, former CIA agent and rogue operative, Jim Hilger, has assembled a team in Bali to kidnap John Rain's friend, Dox (said to be short for "unorthodox" . . . a characterization tied to his service in Reagan-era Afghanistan). The purpose? To black mail Rain into performing three assassinations. Hilger has been an arch-foe of Rain's in prior books. Dox isn't fully on his guard and is easily captured during a routine shopping trip. A little Bush-style torture quickly "persuades" Dox to contact Rain for Hilger.
John Rain is increasingly relaxed while living both with and apart from his love, Delilah, in Paris where she works for the Mossad. He hopes to escape working as an assassin and live a "normal" life . . . whatever that can be for someone with the finely honed instincts and skills of an assassin. The contact from Hilger comes as a most unpleasant surprise. Rain immediately senses that Hilger's agenda probably includes killing both Dox and Rain.
Feeling he has no choice, Rain agrees to kill three times on targets of Hilger's choice. Knowing what a dangerous person Hilger is, Rain is immediately on guard that there may be some greater danger from Hilger's plot than to the three targets, Dox, and himself. Rain turns down Delilah's offer of help, but does reach out to one old friend, Kanezaki, who can help with intelligence and weapons.
From there, the story develops along the lines of Rain trying to foil Hilger's plot while killing as few people as possible. Under extreme duress, Rain feels the urge to do more killing than is necessary. He finds himself drawn into an internal debate about what the ethics of his situation are. Those who like action-only thrillers will be disappointed by the self-doubt, but I thought it added a lot of texture and interest to the story. Here is a man poised between two worlds . . . one full of love and beauty and the other filled with hate and death. Only a psycho wouldn't have doubts in such a situation.
Although you'll see most of the plot's development coming, the unexpected bits of tradecraft will keep you fascinated by the story's movement. In the process, you'll admire both John Rain and Barry Eisler's ability to realistically portray the details of assassinations.
Bravo, Mr. Eisler!