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Review: Three Assassins by Kotara Isaka

As soon as I saw that Kotara Isaka’s newest novel was getting an English translation I was extremely excited. Bullet Train also by Isaka is arguably one of my favourite modern novels. It was complex but beautifully written with a great translation. Seeing Isaka return to the Japanese underworld of assassins I expected this to be good but I didn’t realise I would be blown away.

The novel is told in different sections of the assassins but predominately focuses on Suzuki, an ordinary man with an ordinary life until one day is wife his murdered. When he discovers the criminal gang responsible he leaves his respectable and safe life as a maths teacher and joins them, looking for a chance to get his revenge. He doesn’t realise he’s about to get drawn into an unusual web of professional assassins, each with their own agenda and specialty.

The Whale convinces his victims to take their own lives just using words or a simple look.

The Cicada is a talkative but deadly knife expert.

The Pusher is an elusive killer who dispatches his targets in deadly traffic accidents.

Suzuki must deal with each of them in order to find his justice and revenge and  keep his innocence in a world of killers.

For me this was a high octane thriller in true Japanese style. Anyone who enjoyed Bullet Train is sure to love this. I do have to say though that if you are not used to Japanese fiction and translations it may end up lost in translation for you or if you are more into a Westernised thriller expecting car chases, shoot outs and the like. This is more subtle. There is action, there is suspense and there is a real sense of tension with the events taking place over a couple of days but it isn’t all in your face shoot outs and I feel like some people might not appreciate that. I honestly loved it.

I devoured this book over one weekend and ended up re-reading it along with Bullet Train before writing this review. I am honestly upset it’s over and will likely re-read after my current ARC’s. The characters, as with Isaka’s Bullet Train, are interesting and I love seeing each one’s personality and quirks come through in the text. I don’t wish to spoil the story too much but it was interesting to see particularly the characters of the Cicada and Whale work through their own internal musings and struggles while easily taking lives or at least persuading others to take their own. This is juxtaposed to Suzuki who is seemingly hapless and going through the motions, using the ideal of revenge to justify some of his actions since joining the criminal gang.

Another thing Isaka is brilliant at doing is adding in anecdotes to his tale to give you a greater sense of the character. From Suzuki remembering what his wife would say or do about situations and how he tries to focus on those memories  to get him through what are extreme situations. To Cicada likening his situation to a protagonist in a film he saw and trying to convince himself he is not a puppet and finally to the Whale dealing with ghosts of his past. Each one delivers more depth to each character.

In short this was a wonderful second novel by Isaka and one I fully enjoyed – It was definitely on par with Bullet Train and while the story has a wider playing ground than a train and less main characters it did not take any of the tension or suspense away. I am honestly extremely excited for more works by Isaka and hope that they continue to be translated for easier access to western audiences.

As always thanks to netgalley and the publisher for the chance to review this early – all opinions are my own and given honestly and fairly. I have also already pre-ordered this in hardback!

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