Review: Zero Sum by Barry Eisler

Zero Sum (A John Rain Novel)
By Barry Eisler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a stand-alone title (The God's Eye View) and the introduction of new series heroine (Livia Lone), Barry Eisler returns with a new John Rain thriller, his ninth, a prequel title that picks up a decade after Graveyard of Memories.

This time around, Rain is tasked with eliminating a Japanese politician after taking a job from Victor, a Russian crime boss who has been displacing the Yakuza. Why Victor wants the politician dead and who he answers to are Rain's central mysteries, and after becoming romantically enmeshed with the pol's Italian wife and with his own life on the line John doesn't have a lot of time left with which to operate.

After last year's Livia Lone, I can almost imagine Eisler turning back to his series staple with a degree of relief. There's a comfortable familiarity to a John Rain book, even as we venture back in time to see a younger, less experienced, less seasoned assassin, and it doesn't have the brooding darkness and emotional torment that Livia brought along with her. While Rain is still an emotionally complex figure, and the author continues to find neat new facets of the character to explore, there's also a certain sense that Eisler is happily unfettered from having to explore the psychological repercussions of long-term abuse and the grisliness of sex crimes that predominated Livia Lone. In fact, there are several moments where this book feels downright fun.

Zero Sum is a leaner, breezier adventure with some great action scenes and a bit of tenderness thanks to Rain's relationship with Maria. It's interesting to see him romantically outclassed by an older woman who takes him to school more than a few times, and who leaves an indelible mark on his development that long-time reader's should appreciate.

Mostly, it's just good to have John Rain back again. I'd love to catch up with him in the present-day, post-The Detachment, but I'll take whatever I can get.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.]

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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