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.

Thursday Reviews: The Devil’s Right Hand by JD Rhoades; Day Of Wrath by Jonathan Valin

The Devil’s Right Hand

JD Rhoades

Full disclosure: Dusty Rhoades wrote the intro to Road Rules. (Buy it now, you cheap bastards!)

That said, I can say if I’d never met him, I still would have loved The Devil’s Right Hand, the beginning of Rhoades’ Jack Keller series. Keller is one seriously screwed up individual. Having survived a friendly fire incident in Iraq that killed everyone else in his unit, he still has nightmares and nurses a grudge against the military brass who white-washed the whole thing. So he did what any man suffering from what is clearly PTSD would do: Become a bounty hunter.

He is on the trail of Dewayne Puryear, a not-too-bright chap who ditched a court date for a misdemeanor charge in order to commit armed robbery. Funny thing about armed robberies. People quite often die during them, and this one is no exception. Keller’s hunt for him puts him on the bad side of some really bad cops (Not so much corrupt as having some rage control issues of their own) and in the cross-hairs of a drug trafficker out for revenge. It also puts him in the bed of one Marie Jones, a police officer whose career is going down in flames over the whole mess.

Dewayne is your typical small-time criminal, usually impulsive and not very bright, thinking three grand is quite a haul. The real villains in this are Detective Stacy, who is one of those cops other cops worry about, the ones who not only think everyone is guilty, but are willing to put everyone under the rubber hose to prove it. But he is little more than a frustrated man with a chip on his shoulder. He is nothing compared to Raymond Oxendine, the vengeful trafficker whose father was killed by Dewayne’s brother in the hold up. Oxendine is single-minded in his quest to dispense justice, or his warped version of it. He reminds me a lot of Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men. A solid first effort that comes off as raw 12-bar blues.

Day of Wrath

Jonathan Valin

There are worse things than growing up on Eastlawn Drive in Cincinnati. I know. I live about a mile from that neighborhood. Harry Stoner, Valin’s world-weary private investigator, comes here to look for Robbie Seagal, a fourteen-year-old girl who has had enough of Eastlawn’s faux prosperity. The trail leads to the Mt. Adams nightclub scene, an enigmatic guitar player named Theo, and the warped daughter of one of Cincinnati’s richest families. It’s the family that poses the gravest threat to Stoner. The daughter is just crazy enough to kill Robbie if it suits her bizarre fetishes. Several people try to wave Stoner off. But when Stoner discovers the truth, it’s far worse than anyone dares imagine.

I’ve read a couple of Stoner novels, and this one sees Valin getting his details about Cincinnati down. I actually did an IT contract at a factory he mentions as being in Robbie Seagal’s neighborhood. Moreover, Valin gets down this city’s resistance to change and its need to fake prosperity. It’s the dark side of living in this rather quiet city.

What Is Road Rules? Ask JD Rhoades

JD Rhoades, writer, political columnist, lawyer, and all around good guy, was kind enough to write the foreword for the new edition of Road Rules. You’ll get to see first hand what he’s talking about in four more days. For now, here’s what Dusty had to say about the book.

A lot of thrillers these days feature various avatars of the generic hero I’ve dubbed Bolt Studly– the mavericky, two-fisted, fearless ex-Navy Seal/CIA Agent whose only flaw is that he rushes headlong into the action, fired up on patriotism and loaded down with a whole catalogue of lovingly described weapons and tac gear as he goes about battling evil Rooskies/Mooslims/Latino Drug Lords trying to destroy the US and/or the world.

This is not that kind of book.

Then there are the multitude of crime thrillers featuring the hero I call the Brooding Knight. Soulful, tarnished but still inherently noble. the Brooding Knight (usually a cop or PI)  cruises the mean streets of the city he loves, solving crimes, philosophizing, and protecting damsels in distress while listening to jazz, or blues, or something cooler than talk radio or the latest Ke$ha recording.  Occasionally, the BK does all this  in the company of some genial psychopath who’s taken an improbable liking to him  and who can be counted upon to do whatever wetwork that needs to be done but which might make said Hero unlikable if he had to do it.

This is not that kind of book, either.

Not, I should hasten to say, that there’s anything wrong with those sorts of books. I actually really like those. Well, some of them. Hell, I’ve even written similar stuff.

But every so often, I want to read about bad people doing bad things, and doing so with the kind of dark, twisted humor that shows us, not the banality of evil, but the absurdity of it.

Jim Winter gives us all that, and more, in ROAD RULES. There are some unforgettably and hilariously venal people here, all out to make a buck off a holy relic stolen from the Catholic Church. They chase each other up and down the Interstate. They collude, they collide, they lie and backstab one another, and if goodness prevails, it’s because of the bad guys getting tangled up in their own and each other’s schemes and falling on their asses, not the heroics of Bolt Studly or the Brooding Knight.

In short, it’s more like the way evil gets taken down in real life. But funnier.


–         JD Rhoades
Author of the Jack Keller series and Lawyers, Guns, and Money

Ebookery: JD Rhoades

JD Rhoades has had a pretty decent career as a print novelist. Starting in 2004 with The Devil’s Right Hand, he launched the Jack Keller series. Most recently, he released Lawyers, Guns, and Money, a standalone thriller, as an ebook original. He took a few moments to tell us about his experiences in the ebook realm.

You put out your first epubbed novel, Storm Surge, last year. What brought you to that decision?

Storm Surge first went out to traditional publishers in late 2008. As you may remember, things were in a state of complete panic then in a lot of industries, publishing included, and I got a lot of the “we really like this, but not enough to buy in this godawful market” rejections. Soon after that, my agent stopped returning phone calls or responding to e-mails and finally suggested I get someone else because he was “laser focused”–but only  on expanding the careers of people who already had contracts.  So I was pretty bummed. But with some help from my good friends Tasha Alexander and Kristy Kiernan,  I got another agent and started writing again. But I still really liked Storm Surge and wanted people to read it. Then I started hearing about how well people like Joe Konrath and Blake Crouch were doing with e-pubbing and decided to give it a shot.

Unfortunately, the first time, I did everything wrong. Lousy proofreading, lousy formatting, lousy cover that I threw together in GIMP–it got some good feedback and sold a few, but not many. So I studied up, found a really good cover designer, and put it back out. It’s ticking along nicely now.

You followed it up with Lawyers, Guns, and Money (Love that title, btw.) So obviously, you’re doing something right.

We can hope. That’s a book that really means a lot to me. I wanted to do a “legal thriller” that’s at least a little more accurate about the way actual lawyers talk and think. There’s still some artistic license, naturally, but on the whole, I’m really happy with it. And since, I’m told, none of the bigs think anyone buys legal thrillers any more (despite empirical evidence to the contrary), I decided to let the market make the call.

What has your agent’s role been in this endeavor?

She still wants to see me get a contract with one of the bigs, but she’s been very encouraging about the e-publishing. .

You also brought out the first Jack Keller novel as an ebook.  Any plans to bring the other books out electronically?

They’re out now. And for a limited time, the Keller novels are only .99!

Does print play a role in your future plans?

Sure. My watchword has always been “diversify.” Someone wants to come along and cross my palm with silver, that’s just fine with me, especially if they’re willing to do the actual work of promoting.

What’s in the pipeline for you?

Something completely different. it’s a vampire/zombie/sci-fi revenge epic featuring the characters from a short story called “Behind Every Man” which I did for Spinetingler magazine a while back:

The short pitch goes like this: The last member of a special ops unit of genetically engineered vampires is out for  revenge on the people who betrayed her people and ordered their execution.  I think of it as a little Firefly, a little Kill Bill, a little spaghetti western, but with vampires, werewolves, and, of course,  zombies. I have no idea how or where it’ll find a home, but I’m having a hell of a lot of fun with it.

Have you considered doing a nonfiction political book – print or electronic – along the lines of your newspaper column?

I have, but you know, when I look at old collections of people’s newspaper columns–like, say, Carl Hiassen’s or George F. Will’s–they just seem so dated. Like the stories they comment on, they’re of a particular time and place. Plus, you can get them online for free.