Trevanian (1979, 2005). Shibumi: A Novel. New York: Three Rivers Press
Date Posted: January 6, 2017
When the CIA arranges for the Rome Airport murder of a trio of Jewish fanatics on their way to revenge the Munich killings, the plan is botched: there’s one survivor–young American Hannah Stern. So the Mother Company is furious. The Mother Company? “A consortium of major international. . . corporations” that has quietly taken over the CIA, along with most of the rest of the West’s power forces. And the Mother Company is frightened–despite its limitless power and resources, computerized and otherwise–when it’s learned that desperate Hannah Stern is heading for the Basque country manse of German-Russian Nicholai Hel, a friend of her dead uncle’s. Why all the fuss about Hel? Because he is–as we learn in vivid flashbacks while the Mother Company researches Hel via computer–the world’s greatest assassin and “professional exterminator of international terrorists”: raised in Shanghai and wartime Japan, mystically gifted Nicholai was soon orphaned and soon learned to hate the U.S.; and all the time he was mastering quiet-kill techniques, immersing himself in the philosophical board-game Go, and seeking “Shibumi”–a sort of essential Oriental dignity and cool. Now Hel is retired, enjoying his passions for Basque caving and sexual connoisseurship (both rendered in detail). But when Hannah arrives for sanctuary, she’s soon followed by smug emissaries from the Mother Company–and their un-Shibumi brutishness (plus the fact that Hel bears one of them a 30-year grudge) provokes Hel back into action. He decides to fulfill Hannah Stern’s aborted mission, succeeding despite all the Mother Co.’s efforts (he kills the Munich terrorists–on board a British plane–with the edge of a credit card). And when he returns home to his Basque estate, there’s a bloody underground/mountainside showdown with the Mother Co. forces. Trevanian (The Eiger Sanction) writes thrillers with a tone all his own–rather decadent, austerely bloodthirsty, thoughtful but slickly detached. This one, even more than the others, is therefore not for every taste (Hel’s overdone anti-U.S. diatribes will also put off some readers), but those who can mesh gears with Trevanian’s sexy, cruel streak will find this fascinating, creepy, razor’s-edge entertainment.