John Donohue is to be commended on his first novel, Sensei, a remarkably good first effort that I would whole-heartedly recommend to fans of thrillers. This was a very enjoyable read and in no way felt like a freshman effort. It is always such an unusual treat to stumble across a new writer and have their debut novel completely capture you and take you off guard. Debut efforts rarely have me scribble the author's name on my "must read from now" on list, but this one did, and I am waiting as patiently as possible for his next novel to come out.
His protagonist, Connor Burke, is a finely realized and interesting character with substantial depth, complex feelings and motivations, and is an unusual hybrid of both college professor and martial artist. Connor, a thinking man's hero, finds himself drawn into a police investigation because of his unusual background and expertise. All the characters are finely realized, the plot reasonably realistic, the atmoshpere compelling, but it's the pacing of the novel that appeals to me the most. Much like Dave Robicheaux in James Lee Burke's novels, Donohue's character, Connor Burke, narrates events in an introspective, almost brooding fashion, and thoughout the story is contemplative, thoughtful, and focused on matters conscience and trust. He is an extremly interesting and sympathetic character and it is a pleasure to read about his adventures. So while the action is completely lively and thrilling, the story itself is calm and centered. This novel is much like the martial artists it depicts; externally violent and active, yet calm and centerd within.
The novel is set in New York City, feautes an impressive amount of action, and unfolds in layers as Connor seeks down and confronts an extraordinarily talented martial artist who for obscure reasons has murdered several prominenet martial arts teachers (sensei). Fans of James Lee Burke, Lee Child, Barry Eisler will all enjoy this one. I heartily recommend it.