2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Classic and camp,
This review is from: Shibumi (Mass Market Paperback)
Shibumi was a worldwide best seller in 1979. It is described as an airport blockbuster; it features a half German, half Russian assassin brought up to be half Chinese, half Japanese. And he has impeccable taste, is a world-beater at the Japanese game of Go, is fabulously wealthy, and has retired to a life amongst the Basque separatists. He is exotic in a very 1979 way. Add to this, the inner machinations of a sinister and controlling US Agency - the Mother Company - which controls the CIA, FBI and US legislature. All written by a mysterious man known only as Trevanian.
This all sounds terrible. It sounds like a bad advert for Milk Tray crossed with Hai Karate - directed by Tretchikoff.
Which is a pity, because Shibumi is an immaculate work, entertaining and socially interesting. It is also very long. Unlike Don Winslow's recently published prequel (Satori), this novel is not dialogue heavy. Its 500 pages are dense and slow moving. Most of the novel is spent setting up a backstory to a relatively short and straightforward denouement. The lengthy cave exploration scene with Le Cagot, for example, serves to set up useful background for a later short scene. In the true style of Shibumi, the effort is in the creation and the final perfection lasts just a short moment.
Buried within the narrative, there are long political discourses - often making sweeping generalizations about entire races, nations and automobile manufacturers. They might seem a little out of place in today's politically correct society but they are an amusing and authentic period of late 1970s thinking. They are used to counterpoint the perfection of Nicholai Hel and his close associated against the imperfections of the rest of the world. For example, we see Hel espousing the embryonic views if today's environmentalists - railing against strip mining and polluting industries. He chooses to live in a pastiche of 17th century technology - save for the necessary tools of his trade (telephones, guns, etc.). We see Hel using Go as an analogy for life, carefully plotting and planning each move according to known moves, courtesies and the occasional flash of genius (and he does it much more convincingly than Don Winslow manages).
Shibumi is not a fast read; it is far from action packed. Although there are some action scenes when the need arises, there is a tendency for the narrative to pan away at the last moment. It is a terrific read, though it is hard to see how it ever got beyond cult and into the mainstream. It has long words, for Heaven's sake! But I hope Don Winslow turns a new generation of readers onto Trevanian; his forgotten novels deserve a second airing.