Tour’s Books Blog

February 20, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The John Rain Series by Barry Eisler

Rain Fall My Grade: A-

Hard Rain My Grade: A

Rain Storm My Grade: A

Killing Rain My Grade: A-

The Last Assassin My Grade: B+ to A-

Requiem for an Assassin My Grade: B-

Have you read Solo by Jack Higgins? Shibumi by Trevanin? If you have, sit back, relax and meet the heir – John Rain, assassin extraordinaire.

The product of a Japanese father and American mother, Rain never belonged in either country. As a young man he joins the US military and shows a real aptitude for killing. Part of a Special Forces team, he ends doing work for the CIA. Living and working in that ‘grey zone’ where right/wrong and good/evil gets blurred, his own instincts save him. He ‘disappears’, moves to Japan, even goes so far as to have surgery to make himself appear more ‘Japanese’. Here he lives a shadow life and makes his living as an assassin for hire specializing in ‘natural’ deaths. Killing someone is easy. Killing someone and making it look like a natural death is art.

From page one, Rain Fall captivates and holds the reader. It is an unusually well written combination of action and intrigue with the kind of rich, compelling, textured backdrop of locations and characters that is rare in a genre that typically forsakes depth for action. It begins with the death of a government official in a subway during rush hour and just does not quit. Trust no one and cover your back. Written in the first person, Rain is a compelling narrator. Eisler’s ease with the Japanese setting comes from years living in the country.

Hard Rain sees Rain having tough choices to make. His affair with jazz pianist Midori ended when she learned who and what Rain was. Tatsu, the shrewd and manipulative police official who seems to be both friend and mentor to the assassin, wants to use him for his own ends. The murky world of Japanese politics and crime lords are front and center once again as a Yakuza leader is targeted and escapes. Midori ends up being responsible, indirectly, for the death of one of Rain’s friends.

With both the Yakuza and the CIA after him, an injured Rain flees to Brazil which is where book 3, Rain Storm, starts. The CIA makes an offer of much needed money he can’t refuse that lures him back to Asia to track the activities of an unscrupulous arms dealer (is there any other kind?). This book introduces two more recurring characters – the beautiful Israeli spy Delilah, who has her own agenda and Dox, short for unorthodox, a giant of a sniper with an extrovert’s personality that grates on the assassin who lives by clinging to anonymous shadows. Yet Dox may end up being the one thing that Rain does not have, a friend.

Killing Rain, fourth in the series, has the assassin asking himself some hard questions. Rain is hired by the Mossad to take out a renegade Israeli scientist, now terrorist for hire and bomb expert, before the man can transfer any more technical expertise and training to radical Islamic militants. Partnering with Dox again is not entirely comfortable for loner Rain. Then he misses his chance at a quick take down and ends up signaling the target he’s being hunted. To makes matters worse, he kills two bodyguards to escape. Unfortunately, the guards are former CIA and part of renegade operative Jim Hilger’s operation. Now Rain is targeted by a furious Hilger.  The very annoyed Mossad no longer trusts him to do the job so he’s on their hit list too. Where does Delilah stand? The action once again moves across Asia and brings Rain, Dox and Delilah to Hong Kong. There Rain and Hilgar again cross paths. The ending here has Rain thinking of retirement and the son he wants so much to see.

The Last Assassin brings Rain back to Japan to settle old scores. He cannot go to Midori and his son until his past is put to bed. To do that, he ends up having to call in his friend Dox. Eisler moves back to the shady underworld of Yakuza and Chinese triads in Japan for this novel. Delilah comes in to help out as a lure for the Yakuza boss with a weakness for tall blondes. His old friend Tatsu may be dying, but he’s still pulling Rain’s strings. The ending has Rain and Midori finally see each other again and it sees that all of Rain’s ghosts are finally laid to rest – one way or another. I was left feeling the author intended this to be the last book in the series, and it would have served as a perfect coda for Rain, but was convinced by his publisher to write another.

Requiem for an Assassin brings Rain back into the game when Dox is kidnapped by Hilger to force Rain into carrying out a series of assassinations or Dox is dead. Rain has to get rid of people involved in a deep black CIA operation that might not have had official sanction. Thing is, he’s now on American soil and not at all happy about it. Of all the John Rain novels, I liked this book the least. It felt like Eisler lost his mojo. It’s a good read, all the necessary twists and turns, lies and half truths, but the magic is missing. The intangible something that raises a book from good to WOW! Eisler seems less engaged with his story and his characters here. I guess it’s so noticeable because his previous entries were so strong.

Though the last book is the weakest, for me at least, all of the series is so much better than just about anything getting written in the thriller genre these days, they rank as DO NOT MISS!

The John Rain series would all be rated R

Who would enjoy these books: Readers of Jack Higgins, Trevanian, Eric Van Laustbader’s Ninja series, Frederick Forsyth, and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne.

NOTE: The paperback books are eligible for Amazon’s 4-for-3 promotion

BOOK REVIEW: How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks

I confess I’ve been on a ‘fun with vampires’ binge lately. The mysteries have become too predictable and the thriller/espionage books of any quality getting fewer and further between. Searching for something different led to the saturated market for vampire books. Like the breezy Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands, Kerrelyn Sparks’ Staked series is ‘vampire light’ and played as romance, not horror, though they do have a darker side notably absent from Sands’ books. Sparks’ books holds the more traditional kind of vampire with the daylight death sleep, silver is toxic, never eat food and death by sunlight. How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire is the first in the series.

Roman Draganesti is an old vamp that never lost his conscience or his fundamental humanity. He is also the inventor of artificial blood, a life saving medical breakthrough that has made him rich and allowed vamps to dine on things like ‘Fusion Cuisine’, Blisskey (whisky and blood) and many other vampire foods. Always looking to improve vampire quality of life, a researcher in his company comes up with a lifelike mannequin that has circulating blood so vamps can put the ‘bite’ back in their meals. He presents the Vampire Artificial Needs Nutritional Appliance – VANNA – to Roman and invites him to give her a test bite. Drawn by the irresistible smell of circulating blood, Roman sinks his fangs into VANNA’s throat – and that’s when the fun starts.

Roman finds an all night dentist, Jane Wilson, and goes to have his fang implanted before dawn catches him and his gums heal making him a one fanged vamp. Unfortunately, Jane faints at the sight of blood. Then the Russian mob shows up. Roman teleports to a safe roof top with his still loose fang and the out cold dentist. Seems she’s a witness to a mob hit and is in protective custody, a kind of witness protection, till she testifies. She’s Shanna Whelan and Roman decides to save her so she’ll save his fang. Sparks does a good job of spinning the tale of Shanna and Roman while setting the stage for her series. The story is clever and has enough meat to keep the reader entertained for the full 370 pages.

It’s hard not to like the key players in this book. Though a certain level of predictability is there, the book still does its primary job of entertaining with ease. I’ve read two more of the series, Be Still My Vampire Heart (Book 3) and The Undead Next Door (Book 4). Both are solid C+ to B- books, though not quite as good as the first.

My Grade: B

Who would enjoy these books: Vampire fans who read authors like Lynsay Sands, or fans of Julie Garwood’s modern romance who’d like to give vampire books a chance. My Rating is PG-17 NOTE: The entire series is elegible for Amazon’s 4-for-3 promotion

The High Cost of Books

Filed under: Editorial — toursbooks @ 2:01 am

If you’re like me, you buy over a hundred books a year.  Lately, closer to 200 books a year.  Scary, huh?  At an average of $8/book, that’s a LOT of money.  ebooks save money, but for my favorite authors and books I like to share, there’s just no substitutes for a book in the hand.  I try and buy deeply discounted hardcovers – often cheaper than a paperback, take advantage of Amazon’s 4-for-3 promotion, have a discount card at Barnes and Nobel, even buy used – though if shipping is involved it is often no bargain.  Still, even with all that, the escalating costs of books is getting to be a real problem for me – and I’m pretty sure for others as well.

The latest way publishers have of increasing costs is to take what looks like a popular title – well known authors, hot subjects – and print the slightly oversized paperback (7.5 inches tall as opposed to the standard 6.75 inches both 4.25 wide) and increase the price to $9.99.  Others go for the even larger format of 8.25 by 5.5 inches and crank the price to $14 to $17!  At that price I can get a hardcover at Costco!  And I confess, I do buy some authors in hardcover.

Dear Author has noted a number of fairly significant changes in the publishing business just in the past month that should worry all readers.  It’s more than staffing cuts at booksellers and publishing houses, it’s closing whole divisions within a publisher, shutting down new and joint ventures, and issues with distribution of books and magazines.  Much as I love being online and connected, I still want the familiar comfort of book in hand when relaxing, especially my favorite authors.  But these changes go beyond just holding a book, it goes to how new authors get published and THAT is a huge deal.

How many of you have read your favorite authors lately and wondered if they were just phoning it in?  I sure have.  It cuts across genres, publishers, and authors.  Stuart Woods, Jack Higgins, Janet Evanovich, Stephen Hunter, Robert B. Parker, Tom Clancy – the cottage industry, Clive Cussler – the family business, and many others.  What the heck happened?  I want a great story – or at the very least a good story, not some pulp that makes Sidney Sheldon look brilliant!  Shame on the lot of them and shame on the editors and publishers for being more interested in the cash form a mediocre book with unforgivable editing and proofreading errors and the authors for turning out tripe.  And really, we readers must share this blame because we buy it!!!!!!!

More than that, how will we ever get new authors out there to find an audience?  What about those authors with smaller, but dedicated followers?  I realize the complex relationships and profit needs for everyone along the chain from author to reader needs to be paid, but I do feel cheated when authors and publishers trade off past quality and reader dedication to basically rip us off with lousy books.  Maybe authors can only produce one quality book every 2 years, not every year.  That’s OK.  I prefer otherwise, but I’d rather wait and get a quality product than have these derivative, generic, unoriginal books coming out these days.  Shame on the authors for short changing the readers.  And shame on us for allowing this to happen by continuing to buy mediocre books on the strength of an authors name!

Whatever the outcome of the business contraction the entire nation is undergoing, it is inevitable that traditional publishing will change along with everything else.  Perhaps more so.  Technology is changing so many traditional forms of entertainment, publishers just seem slower to embrace it and its potential for new markets.  Much as I love books, I can see a time in the not too distant future where the majority of my purchases will be electronic, not because it’s what I want, but because it’s what I can afford.

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