Winner Take All - Barry Eisler

"Winner Take All" was an enjoyable continuation of the John Rain series but it lacked the impact and or depth of the first two books "A Clean Kill In Tokyo" and "A Lonely Resurrection".


The encouraging thing is that it seems to have managed a transition from John Rain as a lone wolf to someone who may have people he can trust. This should open out future books and increase the momentum of the character development.


John Rain is an assassin, particularly gifted at making his kills look like death by natural causes. In the course of this book he kills about a dozen people, most of them in a close up and personal way, and doesn't lose a moment's sleep over it, unless you count the fact that he realises that, in his fifties, he's starting to be less fast and to heal more slowly.


Barry Eisler's biggest achievement is to make me care about John Rain. Rain kills for money, trusts no one, feels that his mixed blood excludes him from both his Japanese and his American heritage, and leads a life so solitary that it leaves almost no trace on the world.


So what's to like? Perhaps his sense of regret that he is who he is? Perhaps his acceptance, uncoloured by excuses or mitigating arguments, that he is a killer? Perhaps his loyalty to the women in his life? Perhaps that the people he kills are, mostly, nastier than he is?


You see how seductive and corrupting these lines of argument are? That's the kind of man Rain is. His strong sense of self, his discipline and his endurance are seductive. You start to admire how he does what he does. You start to want him to survive, perhaps even to be happy. I can't say this is something I've ever felt about Jack Reacher.


Barry Eisler sets his books in places that, for me, are exotic but in which John Rain is clearly at home, or at least as at home as John Rain is ever going to get.


"Winner Take All" (I hate that title. The absence of an S at the end of TAKE, makes me stumble every time. What was Barry Eisler thinking? This was his third attempt at a title for this book and THIS is what he came up with?) is set in Macao and Rio, taking John out of the his comfort zone in Tokyo and setting him loose to become someone new.


This turns out to be almost cruel as John discovers that living in a new country with a new name doesn't change who he is, what he has done and what the people who know about him will always want him to do. I felt sorry for Rio John Rain. The Macao John Rain, not so much.


Rain makes his first kill in Macoa in the first few pages, taking out a fellow predator just on a suspicion. As the book progresses, Rain's body count rises rapidly. True, most of them were trying to kill him but his efficiency and his ability to compartmentalise are chilling.


The new thing, probably the best thing, in this book is that John starts to trust at least two, maybe three people (the tentative, almost reluctant quality of John's trust explains why I can't be entirely sure of the number).


I like the fact that John can see he's getting older and that this has consequences. I liked that the people he (probably) trusts are not people who would inspire trust in others. I liked the fact that, despite staying in the best hotels in Rio and Macao, Tokyo still calls to him. The scene where he returns to his old neighborhood and finds it changed and all evidence of his time there erased, was beautifully done.


I also love the way Barry Eisler reads his own novels. He improved my experience far beyond what I would have gained from the text alone.


I'll be back for more.