46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
An old school thriller,
This review is from: Satori (Hardcover)
At one point in Satori, the word satori is defined as "to see things as they really are." It's easy to see the novel for what it really is: an old school thriller. It isn't sophisticated or terribly imaginative, but its throwback plot is fun. Satori begins in 1951 with the release of Nicholai Hel (the protagonist in Trevanian's Shibumi) from American custody in Japan. Hel is given a new face, a new identity, and an assignment: to assassinate Yuri Voroshenin, the Soviet commissioner to China. In preparation, Hel is coached in the accent of southern France by the lovely Solange. The first half of the novel follows Hel into China as he pursues his mission. The second half takes him through Southeast Asia and into Saigon where, dodging foreign and domestic killers, he becomes entangled with the mysterious Operation X. Along the way, Hel manages to take on the Russians, the Chinese, the French, the Viet Minh, the Mafia, a Vietnamese crime organization, the Vietnamese emperor, and an assassin known as the Cobra.
Although I liked Satori, several things troubled me about the novel. The characters are caricatures: Voroshenin and the head of the Chinese secret police are cartoonish sadists while Nicholai Hel is the most honorable assassin ever envisioned. Every character in this novel has a story and every story is a cliché: the woman who spies for the French Resistance by selling her body to German soldiers; the woman who gives her body to a Russian officer to save her home from confiscation; the Russian and Chinese officers who torture for pleasure; the intelligence officers waging turf wars; the intelligence officer working for his own (rather than his government's) purposes; the journalist/informant who is a slave to gluttony -- all are familiar characters. The plot depends upon Voroshenin coming to a conclusion that is unsupported by evidence, logic, or the reasonable exercise of intuition. The discussion of Zen philosophy is cheesy. Every now and then the story is slowed by a dull lecture about the evils of communism. The fight scenes are too similar to each other and there must be a half dozen occasions on which Hel is saved from harm by his "proximity sense" (something he apparently borrowed from Spiderman). The women in this novel who aren't selling their bodies to men are being tortured or abused. As I said: old school.
If the novel is so flawed, why was I unable to tear myself away from it? The answer, I suppose, is that Winslow pushed all the right buttons. The story is like comfort food: predictable but tasty. The plot may be formulaic, but it's a good formula: a story in which betrayal is everywhere, challenging both Hel and the reader "to see things as they really are." When the novel turns to action (which is fairly often), the pace is relentless. The ending, while contrived, contains a satisfying twist. Fans of old school thriller writers like Forsyth and Trevanian should like Satori, even if the novel doesn't quite reach the standards set by those writers. I liked it enough to give it a weak four stars.