Barry Eisler's Graveyard of Memories is a prequel to his long-running John Rain series of thrillers about a half Japanese half American assassin with a background in the United States special forces during the Vietnam War. Like the first Rain novel A Clean Kill in Tokyo (originally called Rain Fall) this retrospective is set in Tokyo, but two decades earlier in 1972. The book is written with the fan in mind rather than the reader who comes to Graveyard of Memories as a standalone novel. It is narrated by Rain, who makes constant references to how things are different now, which begs the question of the context of the narration. Is Rain sitting at home with a drinking buddy sharing a tale of his younger self? Whatever the purpose of the narration it does not work as historical fiction as it constantly brings the reader out of the Vietnam War period and into the present and therefore out of the story. There is even a story element that falls victim to this reflection through the decades as Rain reflects on whether he should have handled a character differently and in doing so foreshadows how the plot will develop. This problem is not a new one though, Rain as narrator has been doing this since the beginning of the series, although over a shorter timespan (the series opens in the 1990s).
The story itself is an action packed thriller full of information about how to kill people and is replete with twists and turns that should leave some guessing even for the established fans. As it is a story about an assassin it is not all action as the hits have to be planned and there is an involved romantic interest to add a complication to the plot. Those who like there thrills with lots of spills will not, however, be disappointed as there are fight scenes aplenty. Eisler once lived in Japan and it shows as there is an obvious love of the place, but in the early chapters that love is a bit too evident and at times it feels like reading a tourist guide. This is odd in a book that launches straight into a fight scene and has a lot of action wrapped up in its convoluted plot.
As this is the story of the start of an assassin's career it involves the psychologically difficult move from not being an assassin to being one. Rain does some reflection on how easily he is moving into this darker side, but I wonder if even for a Special Forces veteran from the Vietnam War if that move is happening a bit to easily and a bit too quickly. It might have been better not to have that self-reflection, but it is how the Rain character as narrator has been set up since the first novel, so Eisler had little choice in terms of thinking about the series' fans. Overall thinking about the series' fans appears to be what Graveyard of Memories is about. Those who already love the Rain series will probably adore this exploration of his assassin origins, but those who want to read the books chronologically would be advised to read the books in the order that they were written and treat this 8th installation of the series as a retrospective once they have attained to fan status.
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