By Gary Singh
SINCE IT'S FUN to shadow distinguished writers who put San Jose locales in their novels, and since the San Jose Police Department just can't get enough attention these days, here we go again with another epic endorsement of Menlo Park author Barry Eisler.
His latest thriller, Fault Line, actually includes a few scenes at the SJPD headquarters over on West Mission Street. In the acknowledgments at the end of the book, Eisler even thanks specific members of the force for their assistance. Among other individuals, family members and pals, Eisler gives kudos to "Detective James Randol and Lieutenant J.R. Gamez of the San Jose Police Department, for answering all my questions, for providing some terrific ideas, for giving me a tour of the SJPD—and most of all for doing the incredibly important work they do."
These are calamitous times for San Jose's boys in blue, as their behavior is being ever more scrutinized due to seemingly disproportionate amounts of Latino arrests for sloppy hostile drunk-in-public behavior. The force could use the positive publicity, methinks.
In any event, Fault Line itself is a departure for Eisler, as he usually pens exotic espionage yarns about a charismatic half-Japanese, half-American assassin named John Rain whose forte is making the victim look like he croaked of natural causes. The entire run of six John Rain novels resulted in a mostly Japanese movie that debuts in Tokyo next month.
Fault Line is totally different. Instead of taking place at exotic locales all over the Orient—with rogue operatives, private contractors, former spooks and triple agents all shadowing each other—most of the story transpires in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, including a few scenes where Alex, the protagonist, heads to the SJPD nerve center.
Here's an example: "San Jose Police Headquarters was a fortress, all concrete blocks and ninety-degree angles and dark reflective windows. The two benches in front were bolted to the cement beneath and did nothing to leaven the formidable atmosphere of the place. Even the trees and plantings felt more like camouflage than decoration." In the next paragraph, Eisler depicts the inside of the place, with its "bulletproof glass, surveillance cameras, [and] heavy high-tech-looking metal doors." Normally, if I read a scene that takes place in San Jose, I feel inclined to go scope out the locale just to see if the author got it right, but somehow I don't feel the urge this time around.
I do, however, feel the urge to revisit the Four Seasons Hotel on University Avenue in East Palo Alto, another locale Eisler placed in the book, and also the local stop for the Fault Line book tour Friday, March 20 (6–8:15pm). In a multipronged marketing operation, Kepler's Books in Menlo Park will actually sell the books, while the Four Seasons will host the event, since the property is heavily featured in the novel. Make sure you park in the hotel's garage, as that's where an assassination attempt goes awry in Chapter 18, titled "Better Luck Next Time."
In the scene, Alex's brother, Ben, an expert shooter with black op experience for the Joint Special Operations Command, eliminates two Russian dudes who were about to ambush him in the garage. Here he puts the final touches on the second dude: "'Do svidaniya,' Ben said, and put a last round into the guy's forehead. The guy's body shuddered once as though he'd been shocked and then the rigidity, the human cohesion and coherence, was just gone, leaving an inert mound where a moment ago had been a man."
Then Ben high-tails it over the service gate onto Manhattan Avenue and then along West Bayshore, parallel to 101. Most of the visual environs actually appear on Google Maps, if you want to scope out the scene for yourself. I am an Eisler fan first and foremost, but maybe he should have held the author event at the San Jose Police Headquarters instead. They could use the free press.