Critically-acclaimed author Don Winslow introduces a prelude to Trevanian's classic thriller Shibumi, the story of genius, mystic and the perfect, formidable assassin Nicholai Hel.
It is the fall of 1951, and the Korean War is raging. Twenty-six-year-old Nicholai Hel has spent the last three years in solitary confinement at the hands of the Americans. Hel is a master of hoda korosu, or "naked kill," is fluent in seven languages, and has honed extraordinary "proximity sense": an extra-awareness of the presence of danger. He has the skills to be the world's most fearsome assassin and now the CIA needs him.
The Americans offer Hel freedom, money, and a neutral passport in exchange for one small service: go to Beijing and kill the Soviet Union's commissioner to China. It's almost certainly a suicide mission, but Hel accepts. Now he must survive chaos, violence, suspicion, and betrayal while trying to achieve his ultimate goal of satori: the possibility of true understanding and harmony with the world.
Nicholai Hel was already an accomplished assassin, a master of hoda korosu ("naked kill"), when introduced in Trevanian's 1979 Shibumi. Now Winslow (The Life and Death of Bobby Z.) dons Trevanian's mantle and cloaks Hel in a tangled series of adventures and misadventures in this exciting prequel. Hel's conditional ticket out of an American-run prison in 1951 Japan requires him to acquire a new face and identity and to carry out a probably suicidal mission to assassinate Soviet commissioner Yuri Voroshenin in China. In the guise of 26-year-old Michel Guibert, a French arms dealer, Hel enters a labyrinthine world of intrigue as various Chinese factions and foreign interests struggle for advantage. Winslow successfully fleshes out Hel's mixed heritage (aristocratic Russian mother, surrogate Japanese father and mentor), and eventually takes him to war-torn Vietnam, where Hel's expertise in applying Go strategy is as important to his survival as his physical skills. Winslow has crafted an impressive prelude to a highly esteemed classic thriller.
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This is the first Winslow book I ever read. It was so good, I have become a huge fan. This book is incredibly well written. It's characters are complex and their environments beautifully depicted-researched. Side note, there is a 5 page scene at a casino that could be one of the funniest things I have ever read in thriller/mystery...laugh out loud funny!