For all his admirable efforts, Winslow lacks the eroticism and lethal flourish that made Trevanian’s book timelessAndrew Josef firstname.lastname@example.org
In 1979, Trevanian published Shibumi, a classic tale of an assassin: masterful in the stealthy, if brutal ways of the Orient; brimming with amorality; and a man who had achieved the pinnacle of his dark art. Shibumi is a classic, and when, 32 years later, Don Winslow decided to resurrect Trevanian’s hero, Nicholai Hel, he knew the task would be gargantuan.
Satori is the prequel to Shibumi, and catches up with a young Hel in 1951. In Satori, Hel — just released from American captivity in Japan — is not yet the clinical killer he becomes in Shibumi, but his mind is beginning to grasp the intricacies of cold-blooded murder.
Offered his freedom by the Americans in exchange for a suicidal hit in the heart of Mao’s China, Hel embarks on a conspiratorial journey that takes him from the arms of the gorgeous Solange, into the grey squalor of Red China, through the cloying jungles of Laos, and into the intrigue-laden humidity of Saigon.
Hel’s mission to assassinate the Soviet envoy to China, swiftly turns into a game of cat-and-mouse between the Soviets, Chinese, Americans, French, Viet Minh, and a rather nasty group of Coriscans.
A master of hoda korosu, Hel’s ability to dispatch his adversaries, all the while focusing on the endgame, sheds light on the eventual Shibumi he achieves in Trevanian’s masterpiece, and in that Winslow’s endeavour succeeds, to an extent.
But Satori only truly steps outside the behemothic shadow of Shibumi in Saigon, the priceless whore of the Orient. It is a Saigon before the debacle of Dien Bien Phu, before the gross American misadventure. It is a Saigon, of culture, debauch and an Opium-induced dreamscape…it is the Saigon of Graham Greene.
But for all his admirable efforts, Winslow lacks the eroticism and lethal flourish that made Trevanian’s book timeless. Winslow’s Hel is plagued by humanity, Trevanian’s is not. And it is this rather banal streak that can sometimes find Hel a bit more like Dirk Pitt and less like Lustbader’s Nicholas Linnear (Hel’s most reflective fictional mirror).
If you’ve not read Shibumi then Satori is a gripping yarn. But if you happened to cherish Trevanian’s book, then Winslow’s effort falls far short.
Author: Don Winslow
Publisher: Hachette India