Top Tier (4 to 5 stars)

Redemption Games [John Rain #4], by Barry Eisler

4.5 stars

Funny story to start this off: it seems that all assassins in novel series are named John, like John Milton. Or John Rain, whose specialty it is to make the death look natural. (There are also the Jacks, like Reacher or Widow – they’re not assassin’s, they’re drifters. It’s a small and simple world out there.) If you have noticed similar name consistencies, please let me know in the comments! I’m really curious about it.

John Rain is also very curious when he is approached by the Mossad to eliminate an Israelian bomb maker with utmost deniability. As it turns out, that guy might or might not be a CIA asset, too. And from that point on, down the rabbit hole we go.

One of the strengths of the John Rain series is Barry’s eye for details. When John observes his target, Barry doesn’t glance over the facts. No, you’ll learn the ingenious ways John uses on his quest, like how to find the room number of a guest without asking for it.

I’m pretty sure Barry has done a ton of research for his novels.

That might also be a weakness, depending how you like your stories. For me it’s a match to my taste, like the Nick Stone series. But maybe you prefer high octane thriller without details? Then you’re probably going to find this series too slow going for your tastes.

Another constant in this series, besides the meticulousness, is the fact that John Rain has a tenderness at the core of his heart. For a man who makes his living by stopping the living of other people, he’s kind of soft hearted. He would never submit to this, true, but it’s a constant of this series that he’ll get into trouble because of that soft spot.

A soft spot is also a weak spot, if you’re in the business of killing people.

Also a constant in this series is the fact that it’s first person telling. I like that style for the immersion it grants me – although in this case, there are chapters written from the view of other people, in the narrator style. Those passages serve the reader to know more about what’s going on behind the scenes than John, which is a clever way to make you feel afraid for him. Will he realize he’s walking into a trap?

General Akhbar knows.

Character based series can come in two types. There is option A, where the hero never really changes. The joy in reading these comes from watching them thrown at ever increasing difficulties and still succeeding. This works best with larger than life heroes, and Reacher is THE prime example for that scenario.

And then there’s type B, where our hero grows over the course of the series. That’s actually the natural type, and some authors succeed more or less in capturing that change. With John Rain, that’s surely there. This John is not the one we meet in the first novel, he’s getting older, wiser – and gradually starting to change his world views. Like trust – first novel John wouldn’t have trusted his own mother when she told him it was raining. But now? He’s letting down his guards.

For some, the distance between who you were and who you have become is unbridgeable, and the dissonance attempted repatriation creates is a constant reminder of the very changes you want so badly to forget.

In John Rain’s own words

And there’s the brilliance in suspense, because we readers know he’s about to walk into a trap. I’m not afraid for his life, mind you, but I’m afraid for his newborn sense of trust. Will this gentle, young flower start to wither before it has even full blossomed? 😮

I’ll leave you to read the rest for yourself, I’ll just put it this way: The first third of the book had been a bit slow, but the rest makes up for it in speed, thrill and action.

4.5 stars, I feel the first third could have been shortened a bit. But a pretty solid thriller nonetheless.

By Stefan

father of two, not enough time to read everything I want to read

2 replies on “Redemption Games [John Rain #4], by Barry Eisler”

I love how philosophical – or at least analytical – you got in this excellent, fun review. This author is really putting his character on a hot spot: no mercy for the literary heroes these day! Great job, Stefan. I am hoping to be able to post some reviews this weekend!


There’s an even hotter spot right at the end, when a personal secret is revealed the hero wasn’t even aware of, but I’m not going to spoiler that. I’m pretty sure that will feed into the next books, as well as the nemesis he made.


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