Barry Eisler spent three years in a covert position with the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, then worked as a technology lawyer and startup executive in Silicon Valley and Japan, earning his black belt at the Kodokan Judo Institute along the way. Eisler’s award-winning thrillers have been included in numerous “Best Of” lists, have been translated into nearly twenty languages, and include the #1 bestsellers The Detachment, Livia Lone, The Night Trade, and The Killer Collective. Eisler lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and, when he’s not writing novels, blogs about national security and the media. His newest book, ALL THE DEVILS, is the third Livia Lone novel and is now available! We spoke recently about how the book ties in current events worldwide, his new villains, and a movie moment from last year that endures.
Visit Barry's website and order is book here.
Dave Watson: The villains change this time. What brought them to mind?
Barry Eisler: Recently I read Seymour Hersh’s terrific memoir, Reporter. And one of Hersh’s central axioms of human behavior—and hence the importance of an aggressive, free press—is that absent transparency and accountability, the powerful will prey ruthlessly on the powerless.
This is something fundamental I think we need to understand about human nature. It manifests itself in too many horrors to enumerate here, though I’ll mention just one that people might not be sufficiently aware of: Ag Gag laws.
More relevant to the plot of All The Devils are revelations about Jeffrey Epstein and the system that protected him. And of course there are the multiple, credible allegations against Harvey Weinstein. What interests me in both cases isn’t just the behavior; it’s the existence and actions of systems that conceal, protect, and enable the behavior.
And those systems, even more than the behavior itself, are part of what inspired, and what I’m trying to depict in, All The Devils.
DW: You also continue a supporting character, Little from Homeland Security.
BE: That wasn’t planned—but it’s also true that I conceived of the first of the ten books in my John Rain series, A Clean Kill in Tokyo, as a standalone! What happens is, as I write about my characters, I learn more about them, and what I learn interests me and leads to other stories. And certainly Little, with his own past tragedy and trauma and somewhat flexible approach to the law, is someone who at least for me has only gotten better the more I’ve gotten know him.
DW: You explore tactics and characters’ uses of them, whether in coffee shops or improvised battlegrounds. Do you see tactics as universal or expressions of characters?
BE: David, one of the reasons I always enjoy our discussions is your knack for asking unique, interesting questions!
Upon reflection…I think it’s both. The fundamental principles of, say, self-defense tactics are universal. For more, see the articles Personal Safety Tips From Assassin John Rain and Surveillance and Countersurveillance here. But within those principles, characters will act in unique ways, consistent with various unique elements of their personalities, objectives, priorities, and world views.
It’s a little bit like storytelling. At a high level, there are fundamental, universally applicable rules of storytelling involving how to create compelling characters, how to depict “you feel like you’re there” settings, and how to seduce readers into a story. But those rules aren’t constricting—on the contrary, within those rules, there are always limitless means of individual expression by different writers.
DW: You explore dark material matter such as child-sex trafficking and abduction. To your knowledge, is much being done to stop this in the real world? By whom?
BE: I could list various organizations, but I’m only going to list one because it’s the best, most reputable, most effective I know:
The Legislative Drafting Institute for Child Protection is an organization that does work Livia Lone would be proud of, and that deserves everyone’s support. And a particularly easy and effective way to support the LDICP is through AmazonSmile. It’s simple to sign up and have Amazon donate 0.5 percent of your purchases to the LDICP (or other charity of your choice). I’ve written more about this here.
DW: Livia can definitely be a film or streaming series. Has this come up in your literary adventures? Especially among the many co-productions with Asian and American production companies?
BE: There’s always interest, but I don’t like vaporware announcements so I prefer not to talk about it until there’s really something to say.
DW: What’s next?
BE: The next book is called A Killing Affair, and it will be the third in a series of Rain prequels. The first was Graveyard of Memories, set in Tokyo in 1972, which is the story of how Rain went from being a low-level CIA bagman to a talented but still fledgling assassin. Then there was Zero Sum, set in Tokyo in 1982, which is the story of how Rain went from fledgling to master. And A Killing Affair, set in 1992, will take Rain outside Tokyo and outside his comfort zone, and show how he ineluctably became the cloistered, lone-wolf killer we meet in 2002’s A Clean Kill in Tokyo.
DW: What’s your current favorite cinematic moment?
BE: Aargh, as usual, so many my mind freezes up…
But okay, to name just one: I thought Bradley Cooper did a masterful job of directing A Star Is Born. I could go on and on about this one, but note the opening titles, as Ally dumps the garbage in a dumpster and then walks up that alleyway, doing a little whimsical dance because she’s on her way to do what’s meaningful for her—singing. And the way Cooper repeats that shot later, when she’s breaking free of drudgery and about to enter a magical, new world.
Also, the scene in the supermarket parking lot. It’s unusual in that there’s no other sound or motion, just our two characters, falling in love. The actors aren’t given anything to do with their hands. They’re just talking, looking at each other, feeling what they’re feeling. It’s gorgeously, minimally shot, all attention on the expressions and body language and the dialogue. And it’s so moving.
Also, the way Ally and her friend get whisked into the concert where Jack brings her out to sing. The way the camera moves with them, cutting back and forth from what’s going on on the stage and what’s going on backstage. You feel like you’re entering this fascinating, seductive new world—which is to say, you feel the same way Ally feels.
I’ve watched the first half of the movie probably half a dozen times - the rest is too sad for me - and every time, I notice some new aspect of how intelligently, gorgeously, and effectively it was shot.
Clip: A Star is Born