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Bullet Train


Bullet Train

I always want to be among the first to read international bestsellers when they are made available in English. Such is the case with Kotaro Isaka’s BULLET TRAIN. Already a huge hit in its native Japan as well as around the globe, the book has been optioned for a film starring Brad Pitt. When I read an article that compared the story to everything from Quentin Tarantino to the Coen Brothers, I was sold.

Bullet trains are the fastest passenger trains in the world, and the one in this novel travels between Tokyo and Morioka. Aboard for the ride are a handful of killers and other dangerous individuals, most of whom are unaware of each other being there, but all are after the same thing --- a suitcase containing something quite valuable.

"BULLET TRAIN is one wild ride with an unpredictable finish and colorful characters to keep you engaged all the way from Tokyo to Morioka."

Each chapter is told from the vantage point of a different passenger on the train. First we meet Kimura, who has been abducted by Satoshi, a teenage gangster known as “the Prince.” He has threatened the life of Kimura’s son, who is at a Tokyo hospital in a coma courtesy of the Prince himself. He is trying to leverage his control over Kimura to get him involved in locating the suitcase that is in such high demand.

Then we meet the very interesting pair of assassins who use fruit as their monikers: Tangerine and Lemon. These sections are a lot of fun to read, especially as Lemon has an unhealthy obsession with the Thomas the Tank Engine children’s books. The suitcase ends up in the hands of possibly the most inept of the villains on the train: Nanao, aka Lady Bird. The self-proclaimed “unluckiest assassin in the world” has been hired by Maria, a mysterious woman we never see who has paid him to obtain the suitcase and get off at the next stop.

What keeps the suspense high is not only the existence of these villains, who we know will meet up eventually, but the possibility that there are other assassins aboard the train --- even female ones --- who are in deep cover yet are hiding in plain sight.

At one point, we get to see what’s inside the suitcase, but I won’t reveal its contents here. The violence will suddenly ramp up as the battle among the various assassins becomes very real. Not everyone will make it off the train alive, which almost makes it feel like an Agatha Christie mystery on high-speed rail.

BULLET TRAIN is one wild ride with an unpredictable finish and colorful characters to keep you engaged all the way from Tokyo to Morioka. Now, if only I could figure out what role Brad Pitt is going to play in the movie version.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 17, 2021

Bullet Train
by Kotaro Isaka

  • Publication Date: August 3, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
  • ISBN-10: 1419756338
  • ISBN-13: 9781419756337