John Rain is a man of two worlds: Japanese and American, Asian and caucasian, fitting in with neither. Spending his childhood in Tokyo and adolescence in the US, Rain ended up serving in Vietnam, where he did some things he’s not proud of. The war made him a permanent outsider, forever at war even when there is none. Now he lives in Tokyo as an assassin, specializing in making death look like natural causes. When we meet him, he is closing in on an official in Japan’s powerful construction and transportation ministry. He succeeds in faking the man’s fatal heart attack by stopping his pacemaker.
But then Rain’s contact offers him another job, but he has to violate two of his rules: Never kill a bystander, and never kill women and children. The target is Midori, the daughter of his most recent victim. Rain balks and, instead, moves to get her to safety. As he pulls at the threads of this tangled web, he discovers that he has been used by competing interests in the past, including some he considered enemies. And now, they’re all involved in trying to kill Midori.
Eisler, diplomatically trained in Japanese, weaves just enough of the Japanese language into his narrative to give a non-speaker a feel for it. Some of the more nationalistic characters come off as a bit cartoonish, but then I have to remember that plenty of Americans sound that ridiculous, too. What really works is the intricacy of the events surrounding Midori, probably the only innocent in the entire story. It’s not so much a grand conspiracy as it is powerful interests believing they are using their rivals when in reality most of them are tripping over themselves.
Full disclosure: JD Rhoades wrote the intro to Road Rules. But then we have similar tastes, so I’m reviewing his book here.
North Carolina lawyer Andy Cole is handed a turkey of a case. Local crime boss Voit Fairgreen hands him a stack of bills to get his brother off on a murder rap. What makes this so bad is that brother Danny was found unconscious next to the victim, a woman known for drug dealing and sexual generosity. As Cole gets stonewalled by law enforcement and the judicial establishment, all people Cole considers friends (with a couple of notable exceptions), he starts to suspect Danny may actually be innocent. And then the blood starts flowing. Secrets are currency in this small town, and the powerful will do anything to keep them, even murder.
Rhoades himself is a lawyer, and it shows in the attitudes of Cole and the judges in this story. There are little touches lawyer speak and lawyer mannerisms that put the reader in what’s usually an arcane world to the rest of us. Moreover, Cole likes to think he’s honest, knows that he really isn’t, and yet, in the end, makes a pretty good stab at it, which is what a good story is all about.