Book Review: Inside Out by Barry Eisler

I don’t read many thrillers, at least not in recent years, and I wouldn’t have read this one except for a curious cluster of coincidences.  First of all, I am poor.  There’s no getting around it; I barely make enough for my sons and I to get by month by month.  So I economize any way I can.  One way is not spending full price on books; with rare exceptions, I try to buy used books or borrow books from libraries.  I would love to support my fellow authors more, but that’s just the way it is for now.  Another way is to buy certain items at dollar stores.  You can’t trust dollar stores for all of your purchases; I found that some items are cheaper elsewhere, and other items are of such lousy quality that they are not even worth one dollar.  Still, I generally go in to have a look if I find myself near one.

So I entered a dollar store in Yakima, Washington, one day and what do I find?  A big bin full of hardcover books, probably remainders, most of them originally priced at twenty-five dollars or so, all on sale for one dollar.  Naturally I dove in and meticulously perused the inventory.

And one of the ones I came across was this one by Eisler.  Not that I was looking for thrillers.  If I hadn’t recognized the name I wouldn’t have glanced twice at it.  But Barry Eisler has made himself somewhat famous in indie publishing circles.  In 2011 or thereabouts, he turned down a large advance from a traditional publisher and decided to publish all his future books himself.  He managed to buy back the rights to all the books in his backlist – not an easy task at all – and has been handling his writing career completely on his own as an indie writer/publisher.  His blogs on the current state of publishing, especially those written in collaboration with fellow former-traditional-currently-indie writer Joe Konrath are interesting, informative, and entertaining.

So I figured I couldn’t go wrong spending a buck to check out the man’s writing.  After all, he has street cred for writing espionage thrillers.  He spent three years as a CIA operative before deciding to ditch the great game, as it’s called by Rudyard Kipling in the classic novel “Kim”, and become a professional writer instead.

As for the book itself, the prose is very rudimentary; I would have hoped for more description and more character development.  It starts a little bit slow, though not slow enough to put it down.  The complexities build up slowly.  One other downside is that the hero is a bit too cookie-cutter he-man.  The real strength of the novel, though, and one that overcomes the drawbacks, is in the story and its background to real events.  It concerns stolen video tapes of the torture of kidnapped detainees.  The powers-that-be are trying to get the tapes back before they are released to the public.  All this is anchored in actual events when the novel was first written and released.  In fact, the author includes a bibliography of source material, rare for a work of fiction.  At first the story follows the investigation and search for the man who stole the tapes, but then, near the end, it goes into a nifty conspiracy-uncovering that is great fun to read.

“Inside Out” is just the sort of book you want to read when you are in the mood for an entertaining thriller that’s hard to put down.  It’s not a deep read; you don’t have to invest a lot into it, but it’s a fun read.  I wouldn’t go for this sort of book all the time, but I might just try another of Eisler’s books the next time I’m in the mood for some absorbing escapism.  And this time, if I’m able, I’ll pay full price for it.

Update:  I have since moved from Yakima to Seattle, and I have picked up another thriller by Eisler, which I will be reading in due time.

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