Japanese novelist Kotaro Isaka hit on a great formula with his last book Bullet Train. That was a fast paced, violent and weird battle between a group of idiosyncratic assassins on a train. Bullet Train was influenced by more than a little manga, plenty of early Tarantino and a whole lot of swagger. And while it felt like a stand alone novel, it turns out that the characters of Bullet Train form part of a dark assassin filled universe. Characters only mentioned in passing in that book get to take centre stage in the bloody follow up Three Assassins (translated by Sam Malissa).
The plot of Three Assassins, much like Bullet Train is driven by revenge. Suzuki has joined a criminal enterprise in order to take revenge on the son of its leader. But before he can, the son is hit by a car in an incident that looks suspiciously like the work of a shadowy assassin known as The Pusher. At the same time two other assassins are at work. The Whale kills his victims by convincing them to commit suicide but is now haunted by the ghosts of the people who he killed in this way, and Cicada is just a psychopathic killer who has become paranoid about his handler. The plot will have these four characters brought into each others’ orbit as the hunt for The Pusher escalates.
While Bullet Train has some scenes and coincidences that stretched credibility, in Three Assassins Isaka has stopped pretending that any of this has to make logical sense. Instead, the plot is driven by chatty ghosts, seeming otherworldly powers and extreme coincidence but also a series of meticulously set up twists and reveals. The only requirement of a book like this one is to sit back, go for the ride and enjoy the switchbacks. And, much like Bullet Train, it is a fun and violent ride if not a particularly deep one.