GUEST REVIEW: Fault Line by Barry Eisler
Dear Mr. Eisler:
Fault Line was the first book of yours that I’d read. I’ve since read more, by the way. In the past, I have worked at Intellectual Property law firms as well as in the legal department of a Bio-Tech firm, so I am intimate with the portion of Fault Line that deals with patent prosecution and the highly educated and degreed men and women who do this kind of work. I am also currently employed in the technology sector and while I do not work directly in the security end of IT, my job daily involves many of the issues involved with the security software that is at the heart of the plot of Fault Line. Lastly, I live in the Bay Area and have been to most of the Northern California areas where Fault Line takes place. I found Fault Line to be quite accurate in those respects and I say this with the painful experience of having read books in which authors did not do any research worthy of the noun into the technology they decided to write about. So thank you, Mr. Eisler, for getting it right.
Alex Treven is an intellectual property attorney who’s brought on a client of his own to the firm where he hopes to make partner. The client’s product, a computer security software application, has the potential for immense profits. His hopes unravel when his client is murdered. When the murders continue, it’s clear someone is eliminating everyone assoiciated with the software. Alex and Sarah Hossieni, a beautiful junior associate of Iranian heritage assigned to work with him on the patent application, are the obvious next targets. Correctly afraid he’s in over his head, Alex is left with no choice but to ask his estranged military-operative brother for help.
I confess I was a bit put off by the opening of Fault Lines. A great deal of backstory gets laid down in the first twenty to thirty pages (an estimate, since I was reading on my iPhone) and I started feeling anxious for things to get started.
Two main backstory lines are important to Fault Line; the security software program for which people are being killed on page one and throughout the book, and the family history between the two male protagonists, brothers Alex and Ben Treven.
Initially I was puzzled by Alex who I mistook for the protagonist and found to be oddly beta for the hero of a political thriller. Alex is quickly in physical peril, and for a bit I wasn’t at all sure how this guy was going to survive his story. Patent attorneys do not typically learn the skills required to survive attempted assassinations.
To an experienced reader of Romance (which I am) Alex’s brother Ben is immediately identifiable as Hero Material. In fact, Ben was so precisely the kind of man who is the protagonist of a military Romance that I briefly floundered a bit as I tried to figure out what kind of book I was reading. A traditional political military thriller or a Romance? Or was Fault Line going to be a book that attempted a fusion? Oh, how I have been dying for someone to do this!
Ben Treven is a shooter for US government-sponsored Black Ops, and we meet him as he is carrying out the assassination of two Iranian nuclear scientists. He’s emotionally isolated and (to a romance reader) desperately in need of the love of a good woman. But wait! Isn’t Alex in love with Sarah, the only possible Heroine of any romance that might take place? Why, yes, he is! Very interesting, Mr. Eisler. Gotta keep turning pages to find out how that works out.
Fortunately, I got myself properly oriented to the story -‘ that is, open minded about where Alex and Ben were headed as dual protagonists and absorbed in the many fascinating dynamics laid out on the pages. Alex and Sarah have the smarts and knowledge required to solve the mystery surrounding the security software while Ben has what it takes to keep them alive and investiate just who is behind the killings while the software mystery is being solved. The various story lines bend back around, intertwine and intersect in intriguing and chilling ways up to and including the ending.
Ben eventually takes over as the protagonist of the story, but Alex remains a strong second protagonist who is vital to the resolution. Ben thinks he’s safe in his tightly controlled world only to gradually suspect betrayal of the worst and potentially fatal sort. Alex and Ben have a truckload of childhood issues to either resolve or figure out how to keep from igniting before the past ends up getting them killed in the present. Alex wants Sarah. Ben wants Sarah and wishes he didn’t. Sarah knows her own mind but really, what woman can resist the likes of Ben after he proves there’s a softer side under that damaged exterior? It’s this portion of the book that is most strongly a Romance. With a capital R.
Most female readers of military thrillers (we are legion, just ask Lee Child) are familiar with the traditional fate of the woman unfortunate enough to fall for the hero. At best, she’s doomed to be dumped while the hero moves on with hardly a regret. Often, however, she’s doomed to die. Fault Line breaks with this tradition. Sarah has scenes in her point of view, which means readers get a direct line to her doubts about Ben and her eventual resolution of most of them. These scenes make Sarah a more fully realized female character than is usual for a thriller.
The romance element of this story is wonderfully done and done without sacrificing the unraveling mystery and resolution as the disparate plot lines come together. Unlike Alex and Ben, however, Sarah is not in a situation that requires her personal or emotional transformation in order to survive. Ultimately, the story is not about the relationship between her and Ben. For this reason, Fault Line is not a romance. That isn’t a criticism, by the way. It’s merely an observation.
I suspect that for readers of military thrillers the deeper focus on Sarah and the relationship between Sarah and Ben must seem novel. Ben is challenged and transformed (in part) by his relationship with Sarah. And yet, she’s not there just so Ben gets to have sex. In fact, I’d even say that in at least one key scene, Ben is there so Sarah gets to have sex. The focus given to the sex scenes and their unusal flip from the male-centric to the female-centric is refreshing. For readers familiar with romance, of course, this is nothing new.
Fault Line is a gripping political/military thriller that moves quickly and features one of the more fully dimensional female characters I’ve seen in the genre. I thoroughly enjoyed Fault Line for all the reasons I enjoy military thrillers and for many of the reasons I enjoy romance.