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Zero Sum by Barry Eisler

Published by Thomas & Mercer on June 27, 2017

John Rain is back in Tokyo during the Reagan years, looking for work. A Russian named Victor has monopolized the assassination business. Rain’s friend Miyamoto introduces him to Victor, with the understanding that Rain will replace Victor if he can take Victor out of the game. Rain also gets an informational assist from his cop buddy Tatsu. All of that adds up to a standard John Rain novel, focusing on Rain’s formative years, but this one is formulaic and the formula is getting stale.

Rain’s only opportunity to get close to Victor is to work for him. That unlikely scenario leads to an assignment: killing an important person, but not without first bedding the important person’s wife. That produces some conflict in Rain’s quirky moral sense, leading him to kill a bunch of other people instead of his target, but not without bedding the important person’s wife again. When he thinks he’s eliminated all the threats, of course there is another, which he’ll deal with as soon as he beds the important person’s wife once more.

The sex scenes, by the way, are more childish than titillating. Particularly the “pretending to say no when she really means yes” scene. I thought authors got over that in the 1970s. Also a bit lame is Rain’s evolving fashion sense, as he learns that Italian designers make nice clothes (who knew?). That leads to many opportunities for Rain to change his clothes, sometimes sporting Kevlar beneath his designer outfit, other times going commando.

The plot involves Victor and his silly insecurities, coupled with the CIA’s Byzantine meddling in Japanese politics, but it’s difficult to see the plot as anything other than a contrivance that allows Rain to show off his killing skills. Look ma, no gun! Earlier Rain novels built Rain’s character and gave greater purpose to his assassinations, but the formula has taken over. I didn’t dislike Zero Sum, but it feels like a book written on autopilot.

To be fair, Zero Sum isn’t a bad book, and I might have liked it more if I hadn’t read the earlier, much better Rain novels. I would recommend to readers who are new to the series that they start with the first one and read them in order. If they don’t ever get around to reading this one, they won’t be missing much.


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