“Satori” is a zen Buddhist term for “sudden awakening, a realization of life as it really is.” In Don Winslow’s Satori, a prequel to the best-selling thriller, Shibumi, by Trevanian, we meet Nicholai Hel, a master of “hoda korusu”, the naked kill. Hel is in solitary confinement for the mercy killing of his stepfather, General Kishikawa, who was sentenced to public execution. Hel couldn’t bear to see his beloved stepfather die in this manner, so he took it upon himself to mercifully kill him.
Hel is tortured endlessly by a CIA agent while in prison. Raised in Japan, he was able to deal with this pain admirably, to remove himself from his physical being. He is approached by another CIA agent with an offer: The United States government will offer him his freedom, $100,000 and a passport if he will kill Yuri Veroshenin, the Soviet Commissioner to Red China. Hel takes the offer, but for alterior motives. Decades earlier, Veroshenin forced Hel’s mother to have a lurid affair with him, an affair she agreed to secure her own safety.
Before he must embark upon this mission, seemingly a death sentence in and of itself, Hel must undergo plastic surgery to repair his face, damaged by the repetitive beatings. He must assume the role of Michel Guibert, an French arms dealer. He is sent to France to recover from his surgery and to learn the nuances of the French culture. It is there he meetst he beautiful Solange, a former prostitute and his “tutor.” In the past, Hel has been able to remove himself of emotion, but with Solange, he is unable.
After an attempt on his life, Hel is sent to China to complete his mission. For obvious reasons, Hel is unable to trust anyone; everyone seems to have a reason to kill him. In the end, it is up to him to complete the mission, if only to fulfill his own motives.
This is my first attempt at reading anything written by Winslow and I have to say I am quite impressed. He’s done his research into the history, culture, and people of which he writes. The many characters are rich & detailed. While I initially had difficulty in keeping track of the characters, the skill Winslow put into the detail of each of these characters allowed me to separate them and see them as individuals based on these various traits.
Satori is a classic, old-school thriller. Set in the 1950s, the action is mostly hand-on-hand combat, not something seen in recent thrillers. Full of action from the beginning, readers are taking on a seemingly endless ride from the start. Satori has it all: action, intrigue, sex, violence, deception: all packaged into one outstanding volume.