THE KAISHO By Eric Lustbader (HarperCollins, $195) THIS series of thrillers is arguably the first in which the main character's name appears to be inspired by his chin.
The hero's name is Nicholas Linnear and he is one of those classic, straight-jawed good guys. But there's more to him than mere muscles, brains, good looks, incredible financial acumen, moral uprightness, total fearlessness, combat ability, sensitivity and so on.
This is a thriller for the new age, which means Linnear also has spiritual abilities - he is psychic and can tune into the forces of good and evil if he concentrates. Today's hero is as much in touch with his inner as with his martial arts weapon.
Also, this is an East-West thriller which means that mystical happenings are interlinked with the inevitable physical fights and big business battles.
In the tradition of Tai-Pan, Shogun, The Ninja, Gai-Jin and so on, there is an oriental word as the title: The Kaisho. One cannot help but speculate that there will soon be thrillers called M'Goi and Yauh Lok.
But let us not mock Mr Lustbader for not having written a literary work. What he set out to do was to write an international thriller, full of intrigue, tension, violence and sex, and that he has spectacularly succeeded in doing.
Nicholas Linnear, a Tokyo-based businessman, agrees to pay an old debt by protecting the Kaisho, the chief of the Yakuza (Japanese triads), who is hiding from his enemies in Venice. The job is made complicated by the involvement of the forces of spiritual evil, the Mafia, the US Government, and so on.
But Nicholas hopes to win the fight and learn about Tau-Tau - a deadly martial art which is performed with psychic powers.
Venice is a good location for a supernatural thriller - the labyrinth of ancient alleys and bridges and canals add their own sense of magic to the tale.
The character that comes across worst is the cardboard Mafia leader, whose name, of course, is Tony. When told to forget about an intruder who temporarily abducted his wife and daughter, he replies: ''Leave it alone? You must be ****ing nuts. Fagetaboutit! Mr Lustbader is good at cliff-hangers. One section ends abruptly with the hero in a darkened room, and the words: ''And then the dagger, thrown directly at his chest, came hurtling out of the dark.'' This is followed by an interlude of 13 pages before the reader finds out what happened next. Think you can just put the book down and not keep those pages flying over? Fagetaboutit.