The Killer Collective by Barry Eisler
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer | Release Date: Feb. 1, 2019 | Pages: 401
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ever since Barry Eisler’s newest series character Liva Lone appeared on the scene in her eponymous 2016 debut, I was waiting for the day she would cross paths with the author’s original creation, John Rain. Finally, that day has come, and the two — along with their many and various colleagues — share page space in The Killer Collective.
Like Eisler’s 2011 novel, The Detatchment, The Killer Collective brings together all of the various characters he’s written about over the years, Avengers-style. As such, this book wears a lot of hats and its characters have their own already-deeply established relationships and web of networks. The Killer Collective is the tenth John Rain thriller, the third in Livia Lone’s series, and the fourth Ben Treven book. Although Eisler gives enough information about each of these characters and their histories to make this an accessible introduction for new readers, long-time fans will likely find a lot more to appreciate given their built-in familiarity with the diverse and storied cast after having come to know all the different faces here over the last couple decades.
While investigating a child sex abuse ring Livia uncovers connections to several Secret Service agents, which quickly makes her a target for assassination. Needing her death to look natural, John Rain is contacted through a cutout, but he refuses to kill women and children and turns down the job. The inquiry, though, is enough to pique his interest and draw him out of retirement in order to find more information on who attempted to hire him. Soon enough, he’s drawn into Livia’s orbit thanks to a mutual acquaintance, his friend Dox, who also partnered with Livia in The Night Trade.
Given the large cast surrounding Livia and Rain, there isn’t a lot of time to develop deep emotional connections between the reader and the characters. However, those who have been with Eisler and his creations for the long haul already know these operatives and assassins intimately. It’s a handy shortcut to rely on, and it allows Eisler to focus hard on the action and keep the book moving at a rapid-fire pace.
The Killer Collective moves hard and fast as Rain and his reassembled detachment go on the offensive to target those who have put them in the cross-hairs, and the action sequences are delightfully large-screen in their scope. Between helicopter attacks, pinpointing a sniper’s den, and becoming embroiled in a massive shootout at a French bar, neither the reader nor the detachment have a lot of room in which to breath and slowing down isn’t an option.
While the book moves along a frenetic pace, Eisler’s depiction of action and tactics is as sharp as ever. He cleanly portrays violence, letting you see every step of the assault, inside and out. The action is high and mighty violent, but also psychologically complex. He gets us into the heads of these operators as they stage an execution or prepare a counter-offensive assault, understanding the mental and emotional components to their physical actions, how it will make their targets feel instinctively and how those feelings can be further leveraged to achieve their goals.
The characters are also deeply aware of their comrades subtexts, thanks in part to their long relationships or because of their own inclinations. As I said earlier, I’d been waiting to see how Livia and Rain would get on, and in fact it’s nicely subdued. Both recognize elements of themselves in the other and understand the natural boundaries that exist around them. They’re damaged loners, but also deeply professional and aware of the deep, unspoken currents residing in the other’s psyches, even if they don’t know each others actual histories very well. Ultimately, their relationship is one built upon mutual respect, and I dug that aspect a lot. It’s hard to say if they’ll ever meet again, but as a one-off it’s a satisfying exploration and the inciting elements that bring them together are nicely, chaotically staged.
The Killer Collective is not as deeply emotional as prior books in Eisler’s oeuvre, particularly the grueling debut of our latest series heroine in Livia Lone, but it does have plenty of other rewards and more than its fair share of thrills. And when it comes to staging and exploring violence from the head-space of trained killers, nobody does it better than Barry Eisler. The Killer Collective is an adrenaline-fueled marathon run of action and conspiracy from beginning to end, filled with plenty of combat and movie screen-ready violence that’s more satisfying than ten of Hollywood’s biggest summer blockbusters. Now…when’s the next one releasing?