Unexpected Thrills: The Detachment, Barry Eisler

I enjoy a good thriller. The  punchy prose, the non-stop action, the sheer joy of experiencing, “Okay, just one more page and then I’ll go to bed.” Barry Eisler is one of my favorite thriller writers. I love his character John Rain, international assassin. (I’ll save my thoughts on anti-heroes for another post) His books are fast and furious and scary as hell with insights into the true nature of evil, especially evil governments.

Then I found this sentence in The Detachment, his latest novel:

“I waited on a bench under the shade of some trees in the nearby Stadtpark, just a harmless-looking Japanese tourist taking in the sights and sounds and smells, savoring the sense of loneliness and freedom that comes only from solitary sojourns in strange lands, where all the everyday things seem subtly wondrous and different and new, where there’s no one to please or disappoint or explain to, where the traveler finds himself suspended between the beguilement of the comforts he left behind, and the allure of an imaginary future he senses but knows he can never really have.”

That’s one sentence, folks. 98 words. Ninety-eight words. Reader-me is delighted. Writer-me is awed. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to control that many words in one sentence?

Wow. No, I mean really. Wow.

That is a beautiful sentence. It’s a powerful passage. It’s almost a story all by itself. You wouldn’t think to find a gem like that in a thriller.

I enjoy thrillers. The majority are cheap thrills (pardon the pun). I enjoy them as I’m reading them, but by the next day I’ve forgotten them. Part of the problem is that too many thriller writers take their characters right out of central casting. They’re not bad characters, but they are stock characters and it makes them rather flat. Eisler made it onto my must-read, must-buy list because his stories do stick with me. There’s an emotional depth to his characters I don’t find all that often in the genre. Along with the fights and the chases and the scheming and ticking bombs, his stories contain touching scenes of loss and discovery, indecision and hard choices, friendship and uneasy alliances. All of Eisler’s characters have an ambiguity about them I find irresistible. I find myself worrying almost as much about the fate of the bad guys as I do about the good guys. Some of the good guys I really worry about because they dance so close to the edge of evil they are only one poor decision away from falling off.

In The Detachment, with that incredible sentence, Eisler attained a whole new level of writer-hood for me. There are quite a few writers I read just for the sheer pleasure of experiencing how they use language. They write gorgeous prose. I never expected to find it in a thriller.

Find it on Amazon here.


2 responses

  1. It’s a rare writer who can accomplish this – a long run-on sentence that is a story, that makes sense, that does not alienate or lose the reader but rather hooks a reader. Cormac McCarthy did in in All the Pretty Horses.

  2. I know, Julia. I can write run-on sentences, but that’s all they are. Just yap yap yap– oh, this needs punctuation?

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