... a new book that did delight me in the old trashy way. It's a thriller called Bullet Train by the bestselling Japanese writer Kotaro Isaka. Zippily translated by Sam Malissa for The Overlook Press, this is one novel that lives up to its title. Fueled by a seductively explosive premise, it's fast, deadly and loads of fun ... Isaka neatly deploys his locomotive setting—everything from the luggage racks and toilets to the train's occasional stops—to keep his characters, and us, guessing ... Isaka isn't trying to express some grand cultural idea. He wants to give us the irresponsible pleasure of sheer entertainment. And he does. At once outlandish and virtuoso, Bullet Train is like one of those dazzling balance beam routines that keep you hoping the gymnast will stick the landing.
Bullet Train is a thriller, but with a strong comical element ... The dynamics between the core of central characters is quite well played-up with their different motives and goals ... The resolution is neat enough; what happens is dramatic, but, unlike events in the rest of the novel, Isaka doesn't draw it out in much detail - and there's no need to; his simple summing-up will do. The fun of the novel is in the wild ride to Marioka and what happens along the way. Still, Isaka does make sure that things work out elegantly enough, pretty much everyone getting more or less what they deserve—and even if we don't learn the details of some of that, it's a satisfying conclusion. Almost cartoonish in its excess, Bullet Train often verges on the silly, but for pure entertainment value it certainly offers more than enough. Yes, it's vacuous, but there's no question that it's a fun—and, much of the time, exciting—read.
... a bizarre, over-the-top, almost farce-like situation of double-crossing, twists and confusion as to where the suitcase is and who works for whom. You will be given multiple parts of the puzzle and all the information, but much like Bullet Train’s characters, it’s hard to see the big picture and recognise which cardinal piece is missing ... On the surface Bullet Train can easily be compartmentalised into the action-thriller genre, but there’s much more to it than a thrill-a-minute action fix. It’s dark, funny, absurd and it certainly boast the most interesting bunch of characters we’ve seen in a while. An assassin obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine, another who quotes Virginia Woolf verbatim—you can’t ask for anything more unpredictable or quirky.
... this novel’s frenetic energy brings to mind the best of modern crime cinema, with multiple points of view going back and forth in time to bring us a solidly entertaining, astonishingly clever tale ... The many twisty layers of mystery and violence are a total thrill ride as the five assassins attempt to outwit, manipulate and escape one another, all while frantically trying to communicate—or sometimes avoid communicating—with friends and foes outside the train. The dialog is snappy and the characters each well-defined, with very different perspectives and ideas ... solid and riveting[.]
Isaka...shines in character development. None of the crooks in Bullet Train is a cookie-cutter stereotype. They leap off the pages with their own idiosyncrasies and mind games. The blackly comic crime caper is reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's directorial debut Reservoir Dogs (1992), about a planned jewellery heist gone awry. Isaka relishes mocking how people are quick to jump to assumptions in their perceptions of the world ... More would-be killers and myriad twists...are thrown into the mix on this perilous journey, which requires more than a healthy suspension of disbelief. Each character gets to tell his or her own perspective in separate chapters, a narrative structure that lends itself to repetition. But this hardly breaks the tempo of a high-octane dark comedy as the body count stacks up.
Breakneck pacing, masterful character development, and well-timed comic relief set Isaka’s pitch-perfect (and seamlessly translated) thriller up for blockbuster status ... a twisty, darkly hilarious game of musical chairs that draws out the train’s hidden army of assassins and a strong dose of Machiavellian justice.
... this impressive thriller from Japanese author Isaka...races along, like the eponymous train, at a frenetic pace ... Isaka keeps the suspense high throughout. Fans of intricate action fiction will be enthralled.