Aesthete assassin

By Don Winslow
Pages 537. Rs 395.

Reviewed by Roopinder Singh

NICHOLAI Hel stayed in my mind forever since my first encounter with the meditative Ďnaked killí practitioner through Trevanian, the author of the 1979 bestseller, Shibumi. One among the millions of readers of this bestseller, I would sometimes find a nugget of useful information in my mind, and on further reflection its provenance could be traced back the book that was a richly-layered thriller. Like many readers, I wanted more.

At some point later, I learnt that the mononym Trevanian was a pen name of Dr Rodney William Whitaker, one of his many, which include Nicholas Seare, Be`F1at Le Cagot and Edoard Moran. Whitaker, who died in 2005, also wrote under his own name.

In Shibumi, Hel is a product of the West, nurtured in the East. He is a finely-honed killing machine, whose wit matches his intelligence. Trevanian mixes history, geography, metaphysics martial arts and materialism in a fascinating, highly entertaining brew, served with the seriousness that the Japanese reserve for the tea ceremony.

Whitaker daughter, herself a writer and his literary executor, authorised Satori as a prequel of Shibumi.`A0Written with flair and feeling by Winslow, who is no stranger to bestsellers, this book takes a leaf from Shibumi and gives us a detailed look at the world of Hel that we had just seen briefly as a flashback in Shibumi, of how he is picked up by Western intelligence in Japan to kill a Russian Commissar in China. His love for Solange, as beautiful as she is deadly; the origins of his friendship with the midget De Lhandes, all add to the allure of Hel.

It is not easy to pick up a known character from another well writer and build on it, but Winslow has done it well. He has, indeed, retained the flavour of the original while also adding his touch, so that the narrative is both familiar yet distinctive.

The book will expose many new readers to Trevanian. Most of the new ones are likely to read it before they go to the copy of Shibumi that Hachette bundles free with this book. Thus, when the forthcoming Street of the Four Winds, which Trevanianís daughter is editing after her fatherís demise, is published, two generations of Trevanianís fans would be waiting for it.