Friday Reviews: Hard Rain by Barry Eisler; Lawyers, Guns, and Money by JD Rhoades

Rain Fall

Barry Eisler

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.

Laywers, Guns, and Money

JD Rhoades

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.

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Thursday Reviews: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler, Rain Storm by Barry Eisler

The Thin Man

Dashiell Hammett

Hammett’s last novel is radically different from his earlier works. It’s not as cold and stark as the Continental Op novels, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse. It’s definitely not as dark as his best known novel, The Maltese Falcon. And while it’s cynical, it lacks the world-weary cynicism of Hammett’s largely forgotten The Glass Key.

Nope. This is a screwball comedy, with youthful, idealized versions of Hammett and Lillian Hellman as the chief screwballs. In it, Nick and Nora Charles are wealthy socialites in town to take care of business. The Charleses inherited a couple of businesses from Nora’s father, which has allowed Nick to quit his job as a private detective. But a former client, Richard Wynant, comes to him with a problem. Through his lawyer, he asks Nick to look into the murder of his mistress. Wynant left his wife and kids years ago, and when we meet them, you can see why. Wife Mimi is a needy, attention-seeking piece of work who implies that she and Nick fooled around back in the day. She even tries to do it again with Nora sitting in the next room. (Nick is too loyal and too annoyed.) Son Gilbert is just creepy. And daughter Dorothy? She suffers from frayed nerves caused by being a Wynant. It’s enough to drive Nick and Nora to drink in this Prohibition Era thriller. Fortunately, they don’t have far to drive. Nick and Nora are seldom seen sober in this one.

The book is funny, but there is a common misconception that the title refers to Nick Charles. In fact, it refers to a badly decomposed corpse found near the end of the story. With hardly any flesh on the body, Nick muses that he was a very “thin man.”

Of Hammett’s five novels, The Maltese Falcon is the most cohesive novel. Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, and The Glass Key all show their serialized origins. The Thin Man is the same, but this one also shows some influence from Hammett’s work as a screenwriter. As I said before, this one is a screwball comedy. It also has the pacing and feel of a 1930’s movie to the point where I could only see it in my mind as a black-and-white movie.

My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands

Chelsea Handler

Chelsea Handler loves sex. More importantly, she loves men. It’s these two intense interests that have gotten the comedian into more trouble in her life, including finding herself trapped outside of her own apartment dressed up like an M&M.

Handler makes no secret of being an unabashed hedonist. It annoys her father, drives her Mormon sister up a tree, and puts her in bed (literally) with some of the strangest people. She gives it to us all in nots-so-graphic detail, but also not hiding her warts. This is a party girl who has lived a shallow life. She knows it, and that’s what makes this humorous look at her sex life so endearing.

Rain Storm

Barry Eisler

Barry Eisler’s Japanese-American assassin John Rain returns. We find him in Rio laying low and trying to put the killing game behind him. However, Rain is good at making assassinations look like natural causes. This attracts the CIA (“Christians In Action,” as Rain and some of his colleagues derisively call it), who have more work for him: A money man for several Middle Eastern terrorist groups who has a penchant for gambling.

Rain trusts no one, not even his CIA contacts. Things get complicated when he is caught by the terrorist’s companion (the most dangerous naked woman in the whole espionage genre), who turns out to have her own operation happening. On top of that, Rain’s comment that the US government’s left hand and right hand being clueless about each other turns out to be true. It also turns out to be possibly fatal for Rain if he isn’t careful.

Rain is a paranoid man, but for practical reasons. His is a profession where double crosses are occupational hazards, and even at the most critical moments, he doesn’t trust his allies, expected to be left for dead or killed for personal gain. Obviously, this is not Rain’s last adventure, but one wonders how he continues.