This is one of the most addictive thrillers I’ve ever read. It has a smart, cinematic style. While I was reading, I thought the book would make a great film. Other people obviously thought that too, because production on a film adaptation began in late 2020.
The story follows several shady characters as they travel on the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo. They find themselves in competition and apparently working for the same crime lord. In a race against time, they try to identify each other, work out what’s going on, and either work together or kill each other. The story is narrated in the third person, with some flashbacks to events leading up to this situation, but is mostly set in the tense environment of the train carriages. Unusually for a thriller, the characters are memorable and distinctive. There are the ‘fruits’: contract killers, intellectual Tangerine and his Thomas the Tank Engine-loving partner Lemon. There’s Kimura, ex-alcoholic and single dad. Nanao, unluckiest man in the world. The Prince, devious school student who thinks he can beat the adults. And a few others I can’t mention because of spoilers.
Amidst all the action, plotting and clever dialogue, there is time for philosophy, psychology and for discussions on the differences between generations. It’s an extraordinary reading experience which I’m sure never to forget.
Bullet Train was first published in Japan as Maria Bītoru in 2010. The English translation by Sam Malissa will be published on 1st April.
Thank you to the publisher Harvill Secker for the advance copy via NetGalley.