Review of ‘The Mantis’ by Kotaro Isaka

This is the third of Isaka’s books I’ve read. I thought it wasn’t as good as Bullet Train (it does include some of the same characters), but better than Three Assassins. We are back in Isaka’s shady world, where anyone could be contracted to take you out, maybe even hired by your own handler.

Graphic of a mantis above a cityscape.

The book is about Kabuto, who wants to retire from being an assassin. His family have no idea about this secret part of his life. He is preoccupied with how he can be a better father and husband, while feeling guilt at his past. Unfortunately his doctor, whose medical terminology is code for the assassin business, does not want to let him go. I found the book rather a slow burn until the halfway point. There was a long stretch where Kabuto was researching how to deal with a hornets’ nest and then a description of how he carried this out, which felt like padding. Then it started to pick up and there was some huge, improbable twists. Generally I thought it was a good read, if uninteresting at times. The representation of women seemed old-fashioned but perhaps this was an attempt to engage with traditional views in Japanese society.

First published in Japan with the title Ax in 2017. This edition is translated by Sam Malissa and will be published by Harvill Secker on 9th November.

Thank you to the publisher for the advance copy via NetGalley.

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