Author of the Month
Barry Eisler
[May 2006]
Chosen by reviewer Beverly Rowe, MyShelf.Com

    I'm addicted to all the book contests on the Internet. MyShelf.com has several each month, and so do all the publisher's web sites and many of the author's official web sites. I enter all that I find. I was recently the winner of a signed first edition of Barry Eisler's Killing Rain. Wow! What a book! Ludlum, LeCarre and Forsythe, stand back. Make way for Barry Eisler, the real super star of the international thriller. I just added Barry Eisler to my favorite author list, and placed an order at Amazon.com for all his other books.

Eisler's character, John Rain, is a complex, but ultra-cool assassin of Japanese/American ethnic background. The idea of a tough-guy freelance killer with a conscience seemed farfetched to me. Aren't they the bad guys? I had to rethink my preconceived notions...yes, John Rain is an assassin for hire, and yes, he's one of the good guys. Eisler is a master at characterization and plotting and has taken the thriller genre and made it his own. His books will keep you reading far into the night and are like nothing you have read before. The John Rain series has been translated into more than fifteen different languages, and has been optioned for the Silver Screen by Barrie Osborne, the Oscar winning producer of Lord of the Rings. Rain Storm won the Barry Award and the Mystery Ink Gumshoe Award for Best Thriller of the Year.

Mr. Eisler lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area with his family. Do check out his website and read his blog...it's fantastic. Barry agreed to answer some spur-of-the-moment questions I sent him by email with no advance notice. He's a very approachable and gracious man and invites his fans to email him through his website: www.barryeisler.com


Interview

Bev: Barry, please tell us a little about your life before becoming a best selling author.

Barry: Before starting to write full time, I had four fascinating jobs: first, an undercover position with the CIA; next, lawyer in an international firm; next, in-house counsel for Matsushita Electric Industrial, the parent company of Panasonic, in Osaka (before returning to my US law firm); next, executive in a Silicon Valley start-up.

Looking back, I realize that each position was with a smaller outfit than the one before it: first, the government, which is enormous; second, a 600 attorney law firm; third, a four person startup; and finally, a sole proprietorship -- writing full time. All that downsizing was probably trying to tell me something... I like to be in charge!

 

Bev: Barry, when did your writing career begin? How long had you been writing before your first book was published?

Barry: I've been writing since I was a kid, although the manuscript that became Rain Fall was my first attempt at a novel. And even for that one, I felt like I was playing around and didn't realize I had a novel on my hands until I was pretty far into it. I guess Rain Fall took nearly eight years, soup to nuts, with more rewrites than I can count. It took a long time in part because I had a busy day job, and in part because at first I didn’t really know what I was doing, and you learn as you go. Since the first sale to Sony in Japan, and then to Putnam in the States, I've been writing a new Rain book every year, with the fifth, The Last Assassin, to be released in the States in June, and I think each is better than the last.

 

Bev: Could you tell us about your background in martial arts and spy skills?

Barry: I wrestled in high school, did some judo in college and law school, and also played around with boxing and karate. That long-standing interest in martial arts, particularly Japanese arts, got me interested in Japanese culture generally, and the more I read and learned, the more interested I became. Eventually I moved to Japan and trained at the Kodokan International Judo Center in Tokyo, where I earned my black belt.

As for the spy skills, I spent three years in a covert position with the CIA's Directorate of Operations. During my time with the Agency, I was trained in small arms, long arms, hand-to-hand combat, improvised explosive devices, small water craft, air drops to friendly forces, surveillance, counter-surveillance, counter-terrorism, agent recruitment and management, and interrogation and manipulation techniques. These experiences and the martial arts background provide some of the foundation for the Rain series.

 

Bev: I know that you do extensive research for each novel. Tell us about that.

Barry: I read a lot – current events, of course, but also on more offbeat subjects like breaking and entry, and, um, how to dispose of a body (for example). I also love to interview experts on all sorts of subjects: forensic medicine, close quarters combat, small arms, explosive ordinance disposal, and, of course, all aspects of Japan and the other places where the books are set. Most of all, I travel to all the places I write about and make sure to do a lot of “walking in Rain’s shoes” so I can describe things from his perspective. Which means I've had to visit Bangkok, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Macau, Manila, Osaka, New York, Tokyo, Wajima, Washington... and, for #6, I'm going to have to travel to Bali, Paris, and Vietnam. I try not to complain... sometimes you just have to suffer for your art.

 

Bev: You have my sympathy for all that suffering!

I had never considered that a paid assassin might be one of the good guys in fiction. They are usually the ones that the protagonist is after. Tell us about the evolution of John Rain as a paid assassin.

Barry: In Rain Fall, the first book in the series, Rain is the ultimate loner -- a cynical, precise, efficient killer for hire. But the central question in that book -- what would happen to a character like this if he came to care about someone else enough to take chances with his own security, with that wall he's built up to separate himself from society? -- led to events that affected Rain deeply.

Since Rain Fall,, Rain has been building what a friend of mine aptly described as a clan: his ex-Marine sniper friend and partner, Dox; his sometime opponent, sometime love interest, the beautiful Mossad agent Delilah; his friend and nemesis in the Japanese FBI, Tatsu; and his contact in the CIA's Tokyo Station, Tom Kanezaki. Spending time with Rain as he comes out of his shell, as his hopes, fears, and tactics change, as he ages and questions the things he's done, and as he struggles with the continuing consequences of the life he's led, has been fascinating for me and is part of what makes the series work.

 

Bev: Then there is Dox. He seems like such a happy-go-lucky guy until he gets cornered...but then the up-close-and-personal contact doesn't seem to work well for him. Tell us a bit about Dox.

Barry: I love Dox. In many ways he's the opposite of Rain: Rain is quiet, Dox is loud; Rain is average size, Dox is built like linebacker; Rain is always tactical, Dox flies by the seat of his pants. Behind his sniper scope Dox is every bit as deadly as Rain, but he's much less troubled by the things he and men like him do for a living. I love how he gives Rain a hard time. Rain is a scary guy, and there aren’t many people with the balls and gumption to bust his chops. But Dox does it, all the time, and I enjoy seeing Rain trying to handle him. Despite their mutual trust and even affection, there's a lot of friction between these two, friction that both reveals and sharpens character.

 

Bev: Your newest book, The Last Assassin, will be out in June. Can we expect to see more of John Rain, Dox and Delilah in this book?

Barry: You'll see them all, and you're in for some surprises. :-)

 

Bev: Do you plot and outline before you start a new novel? Tell us about your writing process.

Barry: There’s usually a short outline at the beginning, which describes the new characters and the general situation in which Rain finds himself. After that, to find out what happens I need to write. Which keeps things fun – like any reader, I’m eager to know what happens next, and the only way I can do that is by writing about it. It's like driving a car at night: the headlights only illuminate a little way up the road; to see farther, you have continue driving.

 

Bev: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share with us?

Barry: Drop me an email through my website and let me know how you're enjoying the books! www.barryeisler.com


Reviews

Killing Rain
John Rain Series, No. 4
By Barry Eisler

Putnam
June 23, 2005
0-399-15284-9
Hardcover
Fiction/Mystery/Suspense
E-Graphic violence & sexual scene

Reviewed: 2006
Buy it at Amazon
Read an Excerpt

Reviewed by Beverly J. Rowe, MyShelf.com

What kind of man would it take to eliminate Israeli explosives expert, Manheim Lavi? Manny is under the protection of the CIA and his tough, experienced bodyguard sticks to him like glue. As John Rain says in the opening of Killing Rain, "Killing is the easy part...getting close to the target though, that takes some talent." At the start of this tight and compelling thriller the freelance assassin's latest employer, Israeli intelligence, has sent him and his longtime associate, Dox, to Manila to kill Manny.

The setup is perfect to take Lavi out without implicating the people who hired Rain, but just as he is about to make his move Lavi's child suddenly appears on the scene. In the melee that follows, Manny and his son escape, but his bodyguard and two other men who turn out to be ex-CIA people end up dead.

The botched hit will not go unpunished...Manny and Jim Hilger, a renegade Company man send their own specialists to try and exact revenge against John Rain and Dox. Still wanting to complete his mission, Rain contacts Delilah, a fellow intelligence agent with whom he's been involved. But can he really trust her? The plot has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing...sometimes it's hard to tell the good guys from the bad. The suspense is high and the action is fierce and feverish, with a stunning climax. The exotic Hong Kong, Manila, and Thailand settings feel realistic.

I am sure that it would be better to start with Rain Fall and read through the series to better understand the evolution of this exciting character. I'm going to follow my own advice and read through the series from book one, and then wait impatiently for book five; The Last Assassin, to be released in June.


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