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A Flashback to John Rain's Youth and a Lesser Entry in the Series
on 7 August 2014
Having read all of Barry Eisler's previous novels (including the less that stellar Treven series) and most of his short stories I would consider myself a fan. As with most authors some of his books are better than others, with the earlier Rain novels generally being stronger than the more recent efforts in my opinion. Graveyard of Memories continues that pattern by not being a bad effort but also not being amongst Eisler's better works.
It has some obvious strengths, with its portrayal of 70's Tokyo being one of them. The book gives the reader a genuine feel for the city during that period of rapid economic growth just prior to the 80's boom. The action is also up to the usual high standards we expect of Eisler. It was also intriguing to meet the young, callow, ill-disciplined John Rain in his pre-uber-cool-assassin days and to get a better understanding of where he came from.
Where the books falls down however, is in the plot, which I found both overly convoluted and not particularly involving. I have no problem with twisting, complex plots, full of betrayals and intrigue. I just prefer the convolutions to feel less forced than they do here. As for the lack of emotional involvement, whilst the danger Rain finds himself in feels genuine the fact that this is prequel to the earlier books he features in leave no doubt that he will survive and we never really learn enough about any of the other characters, good or bad, to care much about their eventual fates. Without an emotional involvement in the story as it unfolds I remained curiously detached throughout and found it easy to put the book down during even the most exciting passages.
Even the token love interest sub-plot that Eisler throws in failed to generate any additional sense of genuine jeopardy. Whilst making the woman disabled was an interesting approach, and Eisler managed to do so without leaving the character defined purely by her disability, he didn't give her enough depth to make me really care what happened to her. Her relationship with Rain also felt forced and unrealistic, with the characters lacking genuine chemistry. This is fault I have found with other Eisler novels, in particular Fault Line, where characters end up in romantic or sexual relationships almost by default rather than because it feels like a natural progression. It often feels like Eisler includes a romantic subplot even if the story doesn't demand one, like he's working to a formula and needs to tick a box.
As usual he then compounds the problem by including some truly cringe worthy sex scenes. I'm no prude but Eisler's descriptions of sex definitely veer towards the unnecessarily gratuitous, and include all the tenderness and emotion of his action sequences. Like the love-interest it also feels like he includes them to meet some sort of quota rather than because they're integral to the story.
So overall I would rate this as one of the lesser Rain entries in the Rain series. Interesting, entertaining in places and atmospheric yes, but also unfocused and included too many unnecessary elements.