I was so excited to get an advanced copy of this book and had no idea what I was going to get from a Don Winslow written prequel of the 1979 thriller SHIBUMI by Trevanian. What I got was easily Winslow’s best book since THE POWER OF THE DOG. This is saying something because THE WINTER OF FRANKIE MACHINE, THE DAWN PATROL and SAVAGES have all been fantastic books too but SATORI, like THE POWER OF THE DOG is in Winslow’s epic league.
Winslow is a truly amazing writer and I still can’t believe he isn’t a mega-bestseller. To be able to go from the frenetic pacing of SAVAGES to the understated almost serene pace of SATORI blows me way. Winslow’s last three books have all been set in Southern California and have a very jazzy, laid-back but fast-paced beat. SATORI is set in South-East Asia and Winslow’ style reflects are more serene, inward-looking, eastern pacing. SAVAGES was all about characters jumping into situations and making rash, heat-of-the-moment decisions where SATORI is very philosophical, strategic and patient.
The other major difference for Winslow in SATORI is that this is a spy thriller. Not that any of Winslow’s other books fit neatly into any other crime category but this is probably the closest a Winslow book has come to a traditional crime category. And if you love spy thrillers Winslow will of course blow you away. Like any good spy thriller this is packed full of political intrigue, double agents and beautiful women but in Winslow’s hands it is all on another level of brilliance.
Set in the 1950s the protagonist of the novel is Nicholai Hel. Born to Russian parents, raised in Shanghai and steeped in Japanese culture, Nicholai is coerced by the Americans to assassinate a Russian diplomat in Beijing. But it is not clear who is working for who and Nicholai soon becomes tangled in drug and arms deals with links to the beginnings of an increasingly more complicated conflict in Vietnam between the French and the Viet Minh.
SATORI is the book Winslow fans have all been waiting for and the book non-fans need to read to become one!
Check out my video review here
The start of SHIBUMI is very dated. The CIA super computer that is relied upon is ridiculously out-of-date. However when the story moves to Nicholai’s back story, before SATORI, it is brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed it until….the story caught back up with the book’s present day and became too silly to keep on reading.
The moral of the story is read SATORI and forget SHIBUMI