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April 20, 2011 / C.T. Henry

FACE-OFF: Barry Eisler vs. Joseph Finder

In 2009, two of today’s best-selling writers, Barry Eisler and Joseph Finder, released the first book in a new series.  Taking a break from his long-running and highly acclaimed John Rain series, Barry Eisler introduces readers to a new protagonist: Ben Treven, an elite undercover soldier.  While Joseph Finder is usually known for stand-alone corporate thrillers, his new series introduces Nick Heller, an ex-Army Special Forces security consultant.  In both books, the main character’s estranged brother is in trouble.

Vanished starts when Nick Heller receives a call from his nephew, informing him that his brother, Roger, and his wife were attacked outside a Georgetown restaurant.  Racing back to D.C., Nick finds his sister-in-law in the hospital, but his brother has vanished.  When Nick probes further, it’s clear that Roger has been kidnapped.

Finder’s new action hero, Nick Heller, is very charismatic.  He’s an extremely sharp investigator and as an ex-Special Forces soldier, he can handle himself in a fight.  He’s also really good with his teenaged nephew, who is more comfortable talking to Uncle Nick than to Roger, his step-dad.  Due to a highly publicized scandal, Nick’s family lost their fortune and his ambitious father went to prison.  The brothers took separate paths ever since.  While Nick went into the army, Roger schemed to get the family fortune back in the financial sector.

Finder excels at propelling the story forward with action and suspenseful, chapter-ending sentences.  Nevertheless, Vanished isn’t one of his strongest plots.  Ultimately, the story’s twists and turns become too convoluted, and it just doesn’t come together.  Finder seems to deliberately confuse the reader, so that he can set up the ending.  Furthermore, he relies too heavily on techno gadgets, which strain the reader’s disbelief and contribute to a highly tenuous plot.

Fault Line opens when the brilliant computer programmer is murdered immediately before a deal that would make him into a millionaire.  As the programmer’s attorney, Alex Treven thinks that he might be the next target and enlists his estranged brother Ben, a special ops soldier, for help.  Together, along with Alex’s gorgeous associate attorney, Sarah Hosseini, they unravel the conspiracy behind the revolutionary encryption program.

Grounded in the real world and filled to the brim with tension, Fault Line definitely mesmerizes from start to finish.  Whether it’s action, an argument, or sex, Eisler knows how to push the reader’s buttons.  In a recent interview, he explains:

“There are three general ways to get to know someone’s character: time, stress, and sex. In a novel, you don’t have time, meaning you need an accelerant, and that leaves you with sex or stress. Violence is one of the most stressful experiences we humans can face, which is why violence can be such a powerful tool in stories. But sex is also enormously revealing…”  

With Eisler, you get more than just a thriller.  Readers learn more about the world around them.  As an ex-CIA agent, he writes to make a point about hypocrisy and the blinders citizens often wear when it comes to what their government does in other countries.  In addition, Eisler’s book is more hard-hitting, sexually explicit, and unabashedly political, whereas Finder’s use of the shadowy world of private mercenary corporations is much more implicit and tame.

The interactions between the two brothers are more realistic in Fault Line.  Eisler knows how brothers talk to each other and how tensions that can effortlessly simmer with just a look or a wrong word.  Time after time, the brothers grit their teeth and fume over the smugness of the other.  His writing also has more psychological impact.  Since Fault Line deftly unveils the cause of their estrangement, Eisler’s brothers have more depth to them than Finder’s brothers.  When Ben was younger, he was a fighter, always protecting his little brother:

“Alex’s constant need to show everyone how smart he was would invariably attract the attention of a bully, and then it would fall to Ben to straighten the bully out…Alex, with his instant aptitude for science and school, was his father’s favorite, and the old man wouldn’t have understood that it was precisely Alex’s showing off all the time in class that was causing the problems.  A few times, after Ben had violently interceded on his behalf, Alex thanked him but Ben didn’t want his thanks, he just wanted him to stop provoking people by acting like he was smarter than everyone else.  Ben would tell him that, but Alex never listened.”

Both Eisler and Finder seem to tread into the manfiction waters of Lee Child with this new series.  However, while Ben Treven’s brooding, super-human prowess will likely attract male readers, Nick Heller is a character that will appeal to men and women alike.

Who is the better writer?  Just compare the first two sentences:
Fault Line: “The last thing Richard Hilzoy thought before the bullet entered his brain was, Things are really looking up.”

Vanished: “Lauren Heller’s husband disappeared at a few minutes after ten-thirty on a rainy evening.”

My preference is for Barry Eisler.  What do you think?  Write a comment below, and let me know if you’d prefer Eisler or Finder.

One Comment

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  1. Yvonne J / Apr 27 2011 2:29 am

    Thanks for the comparison. I’ve read most, if not all, of Joseph Finder’s books but haven’t read anything by Barry Eisler. After reading your comments, I will definately be adding Fault Line to my “to be read list”.

    Buried Secrets, the newest Nick Heller book, is due out on June 21, 2011. The trailer is at

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