In this latest by prolific Japanese crime writer Isaka, Lady Bird, an unlucky assassin, is tasked with grabbing a suitcase from a bullet train from Tokyo to Morioka and exiting at the next stop. But she doesn't realize other dangerous passengers are trying to do the same.
... 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.