Written by Trevanian
I had previously listened (and enjoyed) another of Trevanian’s works: The Eiger Sanction (which I knew mainly because Clint Eastwood had made it into a movie, though I’d never seen it). And I like thrillers, so I thought I’d give this one a spin (since the word was that it was his best-received work). Having heard it now, I can understand why. This was a heck of a good read….interesting on many levels, despite the fact that it was published 30 years ago.
Nikolai Hel is one of the world’s foremost assassins…or, should I say, he was one of the world’s foremost assassins? He’s been retired now for two years, and has devoted all his energy to pursuit of a lifestyle of “shibumi” (a Japanese word meaning something akin to “a formidable contentedness”). However, the niece of an old friend shows up one day on his doorstep asking him to avenge the murder of some of her friends. Will he, or won’t he? I suppose this question is somewhat of a foregone conclusion…and, frankly, it’s one of the least interesting parts of the story. Instead, we’re treated to a detailed background of both Hel’s life since childhood and the murky world of spying…and how much its driven by money, rather than ideology (in this case, oil money). And both parts of this background are really interesting….especially Hel’s history…of Russian lineage, raised in China, by an occupying Japanese general.
**Since the book is 30 years of age, and manages various issues (like PCs) which have been changed by innovation in the meantime, there is a sure datedness to it. What’s more, there is a fairly critical perspective on Americanism which was famous in the Seventies, following Watergate**… while it still exists today, has found a somewhat different mode of expression. That being said, I didn’t really feel that either of those detracted much from the story. **Trevanian, a history professor who passed in the beyond a couple of years, utilized this material to do a touch of showing off…of his huge information on different societies (Chinese, Japanese and Basque…among others) but his funny bone (particularly as communicated in Hel’s Basque buckling accomplice) is really superb and unstoppable.** And there’s a sense here of it being a sendup of spy mysteries…and yet, it’s hefty enough that it can’t be dismissed as some sort of joke.
As to the narration…it’s interesting that I pointed out Joe Barrett’s Eiger Sanction narration, in part, because of his excellent handling of German and French. This time, his limits were really tested. I found his straight read very solid, and his Japanese and French accents still quite admirable…but some of them were just really distractably bad (the word “laughably” sounds harsh…but it did make me laugh a few times). Still, it’s not like I could have done better…and I’m not sure who could have. This book was so involved and deep…and the palette so broad, that, even at only 16 hours…I felt like it went on forever (in the best sense of the word…I tend to enjoy long, involved stories)…and despite some of the flawed voice characterizations, I still really enjoyed it.
3 : Responses to Shibum
Just found this site — very nice! I am a big audio book fan and have been looking for some new recommendations to use my Audible credits on. Thanks for this!
Also — give Scott Brick another listen. I have listened to much of his work, and he is generally fabulous. You may not have recognized him at the time, but he was one of the cast members on the Ender’s Game audio book. I would recommend “The Company” by little or any of DeMille’s John Corey series — he really shines there.
Thanks for the feedback, Erica! I actually have heard more Scott Brick recently on Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel, and I must admit that he changed my mind somewhat with that. I am still listening to it, but he seemed a lot less snooty and labored than on the food book. I doubt he’ll ever make it into my favorites category…but at least I’m open to the possibility! 😉
3. Susie Buzvin
I am not a book lover but this site of yours really caught my attention. Now your site really made me think of being an audio book fan… 🙂
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