Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Steeped in Eastern philosophy, rich with language that evokes the sweat and intensity of a Japanese dojo, and peppered with gritty cop talk and wry humor, John Donohue’s “Deshi” smoothly folds mysticism into this top-notch Zen action thriller.
Story: Dr. Connor Burke, a history scholar and black belt, gets enlisted by his NYPD detective brother Micky, who’s his spiritual polar opposite, to decipher the calligraphic writing left by the victim at the crime scene. The inked message implicates followers of a revered Tibetan lama in this and two other murders. Charged with protecting the lama, who’s at the center of a conflict involving a rising charismatic sensei (aka teacher), political threats in Tibet and competing martial arts disciplines, Burke journeys to the lama’s reclusive mountain retreat, where he’s stalked by a hulking Korean-American named Han. (From Publisher’s Weekly)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. The villain is a martial arts sensei who teaches a potent blend of Tibetan mysticism and the lethal heritage of the samurai. Connor Burke, master of the Japanese sword, is a thinking man’s hero who embodies both the physical and spiritual aspects of the Asian disciplines. He is guided by a Tibetan rimpoche (lama), a clairvoyant mystic who grounds the story in spirituality.
My take: I loved the spare, elegant prose that reflects the spiritual simplicity of the story. Donohue underpins the intense action with depictions of a mystical martial arts culture that evoke the beauty of haiku. The characters–sensei Yamashita, deshi (student) Connor Burke, and the Tibetan rimpoche–are as finely drawn as the missing calligraphy scroll that holds the clues to solving the mystery. At once a gripping exploration of Eastern wisdom and a gritty cop thriller, Deshi fed both my desire to seek truth and my need for bloodthirsty catharsis in a satisfying balance of oriental philosophy and Western sensibility.
Deshi: A Martial Arts Thriller, by John Donohue
Thomas Dunne Books, 2005
Paperback, 288 pages
Buy at Amazon