A Book Spy Review: ‘Zero Sum’ By Barry Eisler

Zero SUm

In the fall of 1982, after ten years of dangerous work in the Philippines, John Rain is ready for a change of scenery.

Described as an “exiled mercenary with no family, no connections, and no friends outside the country,” Rain is short of viable traveling destinations, leading him–against his wishes–back home to Tokyo, where he quickly learns that the business of killing is now run by a shadowy man named Victor. 

Meeting up with an old contact named Miyamoto, a former officer in the Imperial Japanese Army, Rain lets slip that he’s looking for mercenary work, knowing full well that if there’s work to be had, Miyamoto is the man to talk to. However, much to Rain’s surprise, merely bringing up the topic makes his old friend uncomfortable. 

Miyamoto goes on to explain that such matters are now handled by a foreigner named Victor, a ruthless half-Russian and half-Japanese man who previously approached Miyamoto and demanded that all future “terminations” must be funneled exclusively through him–no exceptions. To hammer home the point, Victor personally beat Miyamoto’s three best associates to death.

After hearing of Victor’s newly established monopoly, Rain offers to take the man out–solving all of Miyamoto’s problems–for a reasonable fee. However, things do not go according to plan, and soon Rain meets Victor face-to-face, where the tables are turned and he’s given a dangerous ultimatum. 

John Rain can either die a horrible death at the hands of Victor and his thugs, or he can choose door number two and carry out a hit on a government minister and save himself. 

Taking the second option, Rain gets to work and realizes that the fastest way to get to the man he’s tasked with killing is through his attractive wife. But just as Rain gets going and readers begin to settle into the story, Eisler sets off a series of twists and turns designed to keep fans–and Rain–off-balance and on the edge of their seats. 

For this setup to work, the villain must be a worthy bad guy, and Victor certainly fits the bill. He’s an intimidating presence from the moment his character is introduced, a feeling that only intensifies as Eisler slowly reveals more about the character’s backstory and true motives. 

Over the course of nine novels, Barry Eisler has quietly built one of the most criminally underrated franchises in the thriller genre today. John Rain is a fantastic character, and, while Eisler doesn’t develop him a ton in this particular book, his lethal skill set makes him a lot of fun to follow around for nearly three hundred pages.

Zero Sum is the type of hard-hitting thriller that spy fans go nuts for and a perfect fit for fans of Mark Greaney’s Gray Man or Tom Wood’s Victor The Assassin. 

Book Details

Author: Barry Eisler
Series: John Rain #9
Pages: 267 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1477824480
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Release Date: June 27, 2017
Book Spy Rating: 6.5/10
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