“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid… He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. ” – Raymond Chandler
Set in Tokyo, Barry Eisler’s book Rain Fall (and it’s sequel Hard Rain) is an excellent, hard-boiled Chandleresque action-thriller about an assassin-for-hire that specializes in “natural deaths”. Half-Japanese, half-American, Eisler’s John Rain is a character in the classic Chandler mold – a man with his own particular rigorous code of honor. When a client violates that code by lying to Rain, he is forced into investigating the circumstances of the murder he has just committed. Following a labyrinthine trail Rain finds himself caught between the competing interests of both his countries, the Yakuza, and the deeply held corruption of the Japanese political scene.
Eisler’s character, setting and circumstances move Rain Fall and its sequal Hard Rain a cut above the common action-thriller. Rain’s cultural background and profession make for an interestingly agreeable anti-hero with all the requisite nicities. Eisler’s depiction of the neon reef that is modern Tokyo is, however, superlative.
Eisler successfully captures the unique feel and setting of the city of villages, the legions of salari-men packing the trains, the glare and needle-sharp opulence of the Ginza, the noise and bustle of Shinjuku and hectic ambience of Roppongi clubs. Eisler seems to be one of the few fiction writers who capture the essence of how a city feels, not just how it looks and his familiarity and love of Tokyo permeates the book. It brought back to me the feel of walking through Shinjuku in the cold night rain, the sky lit only by the towers, the streets wet and slick with water and light, the scattered groups of drunk salari-men meandering past with the loose rhythm of the elevated train runbling overhead and the blaring, relentless accompaniment of the pachinko parlors and the arcades spilling out of their bright doorways…
Tokyo’s one hell of a city, and deserves to be featured in more fiction…
Rain Fall and Hard Rain are both solid thrillers and well worth a read. It’s a series I plan to follow in the future.
For more background on Eisler’s Japan, check out The Enigma of Japanese Power by Karel Van Wolferen, Ruth Benedict’s classic The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, and, for a look at the youth of Japan, read Speed Tribes by Karl T. Greenfield.
For another film that truly captures the essence of Tokyo, watch Lost in Translation…it has that jet-lagged feel.
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