Review of ‘Three Assassins’ by Kotaro Isaka

A fast-paced thriller from the author of Bullet Train. It’s worth noting that although this English translation by Sam Malissa is new, the original Japanese book predates Bullet Train. I have to admit I wasn’t as keen on it.

As suggested by the title, the story follows three assassins. Suzuki is the reluctant one, an ex-teacher out to avenge his wife’s death. Maybe he isn’t an assassin at all. The Whale is haunted by the ghosts of those he has forced to commit suicide and continuously re-reads Crime and Punishment. Cicada is fond of chatting and knives. They all want to find another assassin, known as The Pusher. As their timelines begin to intersect, you wonder who will survive and whether Suzuki gets his revenge.

There was too much bloody violence and I found the plot confusing sometimes. I didn’t always know which character was speaking in the dialogue scenes. I liked the distinctiveness of the personalities and the descriptions of settings in and around Tokyo, but generally I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I’d anticipated.

Thank you to the publisher Harvill Secker for an advance copy via NetGalley. The book will be published on 14th April.

Originally published as Gurasuhoppā (Grasshopper) in 2004. A film adaptation was released in Japan in 2015.

2 thoughts on “Review of ‘Three Assassins’ by Kotaro Isaka”

  1. Hi Ian, think I’ll skip this one. I wasn’t crazy about Bullet Train, a book with a clever conceit, and clever presentation with each chapter showing a graphic of the train with the cars in which the action takes place highlighted. And, there were some funny bits, but overall I felt that the story was over-written – too much explaining slowing down the action and too much back-story hindering character and plot development. I figure the book could easily have lost 100+ pages. And, worst of all, the biggest crime was that the characters who made it to Morioka didn’t have the sense to get one of those delicious fish sandwiches from Fukuda Pan before exiting the station.

    1. Hi there – I’m not Ian, I’m NS 🙂 Thanks for your comment. I didn’t think Bullet Train was intended to be completely hilarious (judging by the trailer for the new film, they have made it a comedy) but I think I enjoyed it partly because I hadn’t read anything very similar before. I do like a back story, but you’re right, it can slow down the action. Maybe the characters were not in the mood for fish sandwiches! I wouldn’t recommend Three Assassins even to readers who really liked Bullet Train, so you are wise to skip this one.

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