Thursday, June 14, 2007

John Rain, Killing It

Last night I finished reading The Last Assassin, a thriller about an international hit man named John Rain. As Rain is hapa, we've actually mentioned this book in passing before, but today I thought I'd do a more in-depth post on the subject.

The Last Assassin is the fifth book in a series of six. The latest, Requiem for an Assassin, has been bouncing around the lower ranks of the New York Times hardcover fiction best seller list since being released last month, and Lord of the Rings producer Barrie Osborne picked up a film option on the series, so Rain has already acquired a fair amount of notoriety. He even has his own Wikipedia entry.

I've found the Rain series to be thoroughly entertaining, even though it's a little outside of my normal reading preferences. I've tore through each of the previous installments in a few days, and I'm really looking forward to Requiem for an Assassin, which I will probably go buy this weekend.

Overall, what I dig so much about this series is that the sense of place always feels so rich to me. Most of the books have action in Japan, so there's some nostalgia value, but there's usually incorporation of many locations around the world where I've never been, and would like to visit based on how they're presented in these books. And regardless of which city he's in, Rain always seems to find the dope jazz spots with the vintage whiskey selections, which gets my motor humming as an aspiring connoisseur of both those indulgences.

Plus there's all that ruthless hired gun, espionage razzle-dazzle adventure stuff which is a lot of fun (yet tempered somewhat with ethical considerations now and then, so you don't have to feel too guilty about lapping up the bloodshed).

The fact that the protagonist is hapa adds a layer as well, and gives me another reason to pay attention. I've recently written on this site that I'm not one for mixed race celebrity gawking, so I'm certainly not going to start doing it with fictional characters. But I do think it's kind of neat that this dynamic has been incorporated into a successful and recognized pop culture franchise--and with an approach that feels fairly tasteful and thoughtful, in my opinion.

By those terms, the major drawback so far has been that Rain tends to get marketed as being "half American and half Japanese" in a way that seems to want to conflate Americanness with whiteness. This problem exists within the books as well (but is necessarily complicated by textual nuance--like the presence of a couple of monoracial Japanese Americans, and just generally the fact that manuscripts go into much greater detail than blurbs and jacket copy), but the issue becomes most salient (and thereby worrisome) in how the book is presented to the prospective book-buying public.

Anyway, I'm not here to write a thesis--I'll leave that to the culture vulture media studies types (and you folks really should check into this series; I think it'll afford you some rich material, especially if it ever turns into a movie). But regardless of who you are, this is a pretty interesting thing to keep your eye on, I think.

One final note: I've actually met the author, Barry Eisler, a couple times, and interviewed him over email for a newspaper I used to write for. He's a really charismatic, friendly individual with good business sense, a commitment to his craft, and a unique past (and he seems to be into all that MMA-type stuff my collaborator loves so much). Although I wouldn't say it's a must-read, he's also got a blog on world politics and related affairs that can be interesting (sometimes it does seem to lean a little to the right, but not dogmatically so, and he usually comes across as pretty open-minded and thorough in his takes).



Blogger Mix76 said...

So you're saying that this series of books provides "rich thesis material" to be studied? Hhahaha... I'll have to check them out.

And if a movie is produced they should drop some dope Japanese hip hop on the soundtrack!

6:55 PM  
Blogger Mix76 said...

Sweet. Barry Eisler just became our MySpace buddy!

5:40 PM  

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