Thursday, March 3, 2011

Audiobook Thursday - SHIBUMI

First line: The screen flashed 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3...then the projector was switched off, and lights came up in recessed sconces along the walls of the private viewing room.

Nicholai Hel is a retired assassin living in the Basque region of France when Hannah Stern shows up on his doorstep looking for help after an international incident. Hannah Stern unknowingly leads the "Mother Company," commanded by an agent with a personal grudge, to Hel's door as well. Hel feels a personal obligation to help Stern, but will he be able to do so and protect himself from the evils pursuing him.

I reviewed SATORI here two weeks ago. When I finished reading Don Winslow's prequel to this crime fiction classic, I knew I had to backtrack and pick up SHIBUMI, Trevanian's original Hel novel. I wondered when I read SATORI if I would prefer it simply because it was the first I read, but I didn't find that to be so. Like SATORI, SHIBUMI is sensually stimulating. Trevanian connected with the beauty of nature and life in contrast to the ugliness and destruction of Hel's profession. That dichotomy in his character enhances his dimension.

Hel's relationships are another fascinating element of the novel. He lives with a concubine, whom he obviously loves, but there seems to be an unspoken rule that they cannot admit that emotion. And there is most definitely a distinction between the physical and the emotional in Hel's relationships.

Hel's relationship with his Basque friend, Le Cagot, is both revealing of character and humorous to the plot. It is most often Hel's contrast to those around him that most beautifully illustrates SHIBUMI and Trevanian's great respect of the Eastern cultures.

Like SATORI, the plot is rich and exciting, but for me it played second fiddle to the characters, the setting, the internal conflicts and the atmosphere. Something as simple as Hel kicking his car brings an unsuspecting luxuriance to the reading experience.

Today's readers may find some dated terminology and technology cause for chuckles, but the fundamental themes and the characterizations are timeless. Simply a beautiful novel.

I also took the opportunity to experience SHIBUMI on audio. It is read by Joe Barrett for Blackstone Audio. Barrett is one of my favorite narrators and one of the primary reasons is because, regardless of what he is narrating, he takes on THAT book. I never listen and hear the voice of a previous character. Barrett embodies the characters he is reading at that precise time. He did so with SHIBUMI as well. Whether it is a frightened young woman, an exotic mistress, a bombastic Basque or the world's greatest assassin, Barrett gives each a distinct voice. He appreciates the importance that the tone plays in this novel and keeps dramatic emphasis to a minimum. If anyone was able to exude shibumi through narration, Joe Barrett managed it.

SHIBUMI is available in trade paper (ISBN: 978-1-400-09803-1) from Broadway books and on audio from Blackstone Audio (ISBN: 978-0-786-17978-7).  


pattinase (abbott) March 3, 2011 at 7:36 AM  

Jen-Can I include this on Friday's Forgotten Books? (
Thanks, Patti

le0pard13 March 3, 2011 at 9:36 AM  

Excellent look at this, Jen. I was hoping you'd like it. I'm looking forward to listening to this audiobook before I get to Winslow's Satori. Thanks for this.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy March 3, 2011 at 4:04 PM  

Shibumi is one of my all time favorite books ever. I've bought over 50 copies in paperback and I keep handing them to people.

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