Book Review: Fault Line by Barry Eisler

Casting about for a good fiction book to take away the bad taste of the business self-help book I’d read that turned out to be like eating too much sour cotton candy at a fair, I perused my to-read stack that sits on the bookshelf near my bed.  I have some big long dense intellectual novels and some short light science fiction novels, but none seemed to fit the bill.  Then I saw this book by Eisler I’d picked up in one of the recent library sales.  Just the thing.

I’d read another book by Eisler not too long ago, “Inside Out,” same main character and everything, and I’d liked it well enough but found it somewhat formulaic.  Not necessarily a bad thing if you’re writing for a specific genre.  And these books were written before Eisler abandoned the traditional publishers for whom he’d been writing and decided to go indie.  There may have been some pressure to conform to certain patterns; I don’t know.  Anyway, I liked it enough to give Eisler another try.

I found this book, “Fault Line,” a far better read than “Inside Out.”  I could still see the standard plot skeleton: a certain number of action scenes, a female sidekick to one of the main characters who doesn’t serve much plot purpose except you have to have a pretty woman in a story like this – still, there was a dynamism in this story that was, if not absent, then at least not so stark in the previous novel.  When I say previous novel, I mean the one I read previously – in the story chronology, “Fault Line” takes place first.

What sets this novel apart from its spy/thriller trappings is the character development.  The plot involves two estranged brothers, one of whom, a lawyer, is in danger after coming across a state of the art encryption program that seems to be a potential cyber-weapon.  When an attempt is made on his life, he contacts his brother, who works clandestinely in black ops, to help him out.  Through flashbacks and brother to brother interaction we get filled in on the back story.  No, it doesn’t read like a bad Van Damme movie.  It’s well told and poignant.  The plot, in fact, is fairly simple, although it has some satisfying twists at the end.  What gives the novel depth is the people.

Another thing that I like about both this book and the previous one is the moral ambiguity of the main character, the black op agent named Ben Treven, and the government organization he works for.  There’s no clear black and white, good guys and bad guys like in a James Bond novel.  Clearly the corruption extends upward to the highest levels, and Treven becomes unsure of and questions that with which he has been indoctrinated.  It’s no secret that Eisler spent several years in the CIA, and in these books he seems to serve the role of a whistleblower, warning the public, albeit entertainingly, that all is not as it seems, that there is nasty business afoot in the hallowed halls of the privileged.

Well, this Eisler novel really hit the spot.  Cleaned out my system.  Cleared the head like a shot of gold tequila, perhaps with a squeeze of lime and a pinch of salt.  It was just what I needed.  I consider myself purged.  Onward to new challenges.  Eisler is a fine writer, and if you’re in the mood for a gripping, hard-to-put-down suspense thriller, try one of his books.

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