Friday, June 30, 2017

Book Review: "Zero Sum" by Barry Eisler

There are few authors out there today who can get my pulse racing like Barry Eisler, especially when it's one of his John Rain thrillers. These books are the perfect balance of excellent character development, crackling action, and heart-in-your-throat tension, and I honestly cannot get enough of them. Why these books aren't as well-known by the general public as some more-mediocre series is beyond me.

I'm happy to report that Eisler's newest John Rain thriller, Zero Sum, is equally as fantastic as its predecessors. This is another book which recalls Rain's earlier days, tracing the rise of this lethal-yet-complicated mercenary. It's 1982, and Rain has returned to Tokyo after a 10-year absence working in the Philippines. When he meets with an old friend in order to find some murder-for-hire work, he discovers that the assassin business has been monopolized by an upstart—Victor—half-Russian, half-Japanese, all psychotic, with a chip on his shoulder and the belief everyone should fear him.

Victor has cornered the market on all murders for hire, upsetting even the crime families. Rain is determined to find out how he was able to get such a toehold in the system so quickly, and find out where his support was coming from. Despite warnings to the contrary, Rain gets hired by Victor, who presents him with an interesting challenge: kill a government minister or face bloody death at the hands of Victor or one of his henchmen.

Although the job should be easy for someone with Rain's skills, Rain isn't one to take the easy path. He's more interesting in stalling in order to get Victor riled up, which would give Rain an opportunity to take him out. But what Rain doesn't count on is Maria, the government minister's beautiful Italian wife, who awakens passions that Rain has tamped down for far too long. Getting mixed up with the wife of the man he's supposed to murder certainly complicates things, and the more he finds out about the forces that brought Victor into play, and what they really want, the higher the stakes get for Rain—and everyone he cares about.

"When you live a little longer, you see the world as it really is. And yes, even then it can be shiny and bright, but also you know it has sharp edges. And sometimes what's shiny is exactly what's sharp. If you want to get close to it, it means you get cut."

Zero Sum moves at a lightning pace, with lots of fantastic action, although the violence gets a bit graphic and gruesome, so if you're bothered by that, this might not be the book for you. There are political conspiracies, psychotic killers, introspection, and some pretty hot sex thrown in for good measure. Eisler and John Rain are once again truly at the top of their game, and it is always so great to be back in Rain's world. (As much as I love his John Rain books, I'm hoping Eisler will write another book with one of his newest characters, Livia Lone, who featured in her own eponymous book last year.)

While Eisler has had a few bestsellers, interestingly enough, they tend to be his more modern thrillers rather than his John Rain books. But truly, these are fantastic, because there's so much to them beyond suspense and action. These are smart, well-written, and, dare I say, even sensitive. Here's hoping there are more John Rain stories to tell!

NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!


  1. Sounds great. I was just vaguely familiar with the name Barry Eisler, without knowing what kind of books he writes. I'll rectify that now.

    1. Thanks, Art! He writes a mix of books, but I've really loved his John Rain series best.