The 1979 international thriller Shibumi, by the author Trevanian, quickly became a classic of the genre. The hero of Shibumi was Nicholai Hel, the son of an aristocratic Russian mother who immigrated to Japan, who was raised after his mother’s death by his samurai surrogate father. Contemporary thriller author Don Winslow (Savages) has taken up Hel’s story in Satori, revealing how Hel came to be a professional assassin working for the CIA—a mastermind fluent in English, French, German, Chinese and Japanese, and trained in the complex strategies of “Go,” the ancient Japanese board game similar to chess, but much more intricate.

It’s 1951, and Hel, 26, is just emerging from three years of solitary confinement. The Americans—actually the CIA—are releasing him, his freedom contingent on his agreeing to go to Beijing and assassinate Yuri Voroshenin, the Soviet commissioner to China.

To aid in the completion of this difficult assignment, considered by the CIA to be a suicide mission, Hel is given a new face and a new identity—that of Michel Guibert, a French national and the son of an arms dealer with ties to the French Communist Party. The many obstacles in Hel’s path include Solange, a highly paid French prostitute who may or may not be an assassin herself; Major Diamond, a ruthless CIA operative who will stop at nothing to avoid losing control of his lucrative Southeast Asia drug operation; and a motley mélange of drug lords, pirates and the Corsican Mafia.

Armed with “naked kill” karate skills and a superhero-like heightened “proximity sense,” which gives him an early warning of approaching danger, Hel dispatches one enemy after another, maiming or killing them like pawns on a chessboard. And he accomplishes all of this while striving to reach his ultimate goal: an understanding of the Zen Buddhist concept of satori—living in harmony with the world.

Winslow superbly carries on the Shibumi tradition in this action-packed novel that will appeal not only to Trevanian fans, but readers of contemporary thrillers as well. 

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