Three Assassins by Kotaro Isaka

Three Assassins Cover

Publisher: Harvill Secker (Trade Paperback – 14 April 2022)

English Translation: Sam Malissa

Series: Standalone

Length: 254 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Legendary Japanese author Kotaro Isaka brings us another fast-paced, intriguing and unique thriller with the English release of Three Assassins.

Last year I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the first English translation of Kotaro Isaka’s 2010 novel, Maria Bītoru (Maria Beatle), which was released in the Western world as Bullet Train ahead of a movie adaptation of the same name.  I had a lot of fun with this impressive novel which set several distinctive and crazy assassins against each other aboard a speeding bullet train.  Now, with the Bullet Train film only a couple of months away, an English version of another of Isaka’s novels, the 2004 novel Gurasuhoppā (Grasshopper) has just been released.  This novel, translated by Sam Malissa and released under the title Three Assassins, presents another intense and clever thriller read that was incredibly fun to read.

Suzuki is a former schoolteacher who has joined the notorious Tokyo criminal gang, Fräulein, to get revenge for his dead wife by killing the murderous son of the gang’s leader.  However, his revenge mission goes downhill when, moments before his flimsy cover is blown, his target falls onto the road and is run over by a van.  With the shocked gang watching on, Suzuki is sent to chase after someone he sees fleeing the scene, who the gang believes killed the leader’s son.

Convinced the man responsible is the elusive assassin known as the Pusher, Suzuki’s Fräulein contact demands that he reveal the location of the person he followed.  However, Suzuki is uncertain about whether the man is actually responsible or just a random passer-by, especially when he meets the man’s young family.  But with the gang determined for revenge, Suzuki must decide whether to pass on the information or attempt to flee for his life.  Worse, his actions have attracted the attention of other notorious assassins, each of whom have their own reasons for hunting down the Pusher.

The Whale is deadly and forlorn soul who can convince anyone to kill themselves just by talking to them, while Cicada is a talkative and deadly knife expert.  The Whale wants revenge on the Pusher for his part in a prior death, while Cicada is determined to make his own rep by killing this notorious assassin.  Both are determined to find Suzuki and have him lead them to the Pusher by any means necessary.  Can Suzuki survive the barrage of killers, gangsters and monsters being unleased upon him, or will he be forced to compromise his principles and morals to survive?

This was an awesome and exciting novel from Isaka that proved to be extremely fun to read.  Written in Isaka’s distinctive style, and featuring some unique twists, turns and characters, Three Assassins is an entertaining read that I powered through in a day and which is really worth checking out.

Three Assassins has a brilliant fast-paced story to it that readers will swiftly become addicted to.  Written in a distinctive style that emphasises odd character traits and relies heavily on intriguing anecdotes, you are quickly introduced to three captivating point of view characters: Suzuki, the Whale and Cicada.  All three have unique and compelling storylines: Suzuki is thrust into survival mode as he hunts for the elusive Pusher, the Whale is involved in political assassinations before being forced to turn on his employer, while the wildcard Cicada balances his killing desires with frustrations with his overbearing boss.  These storylines soon start to come together when the Whale and Cicada learn about Suzuki’s situation and his apparent connection with the infamous Pusher, and both try to get their hands on Suzuki before the gang does.  However, nothing is as it seems, and all three must battle with their own demons (literally in the case of the Whale), while also trying to outsmart each other and some of the other unique people populating the streets of this version of Tokyo.

All three separate character-driven storylines come together perfectly as the story progresses, and you will love seeing these amazing characters interact as each reaches their own unique destiny.  There are several fantastic and impressive confrontations towards the later part of the book, as well as some great twists, the best of which will leave you reeling and completely change how you viewed the first three quarters of the novel.  While I saw a couple of twists coming, I was pleasantly surprised by several of the reveals, revelations and story turns that occurred, and there are some fantastic moments scattered throughout this book.  I loved how fast-paced Three Assassins turned out to be and there is honestly not a single slow moment to be found as you get through it.  That, combined with its shorter length, will encourage readers to power through it in a very short amount of time, and you will not be disappointed when you see what happens with this entertaining and amusing story.

Like Bullet Train, Three Assassins is a standalone novel that requires no familiarity with any of Isaka’s previous novels to appreciate the clever story or intense action.  It does however have some interesting connections to Bullet Train that fans will really appreciate.  Three Assassins is noticeably written in a similar style to Bullet Train, with a familiar plot focused on multiple unusual Tokyo assassins, as well as certain unique types of characterisations, interactions and writing flow.  These similarities are intentional as the original Japanese version of Three Assassins, Grasshopper came out several years before Maria Beetle.  This means that Three Assassins is actually a precursor to Bullet Train, hence the stylistic similarities.  As such, Three Assassins features a couple of characters who would end up having minor roles in Bullet Train, such as the Pusher, who has a few short point-of-view chapters as the character Morning Glory in Bullet Train, and the assassin duo known as the Hornet.  I have to admit that when I read Bullet Train, I did wonder about why these characters were featured, as some relevant context appeared to be missing.  However, after reading Three Assassins I see that they were there as a reference to this preceding novel and you actually get to understand their role in Bullet Train a little better after reading this book.  I really liked the cool connections this novel had to Bullet Train, and it is really worthwhile checking Three Assassins out alongside it.  While I do think that I preferred Bullet Train a little more than Three Assassins, as its story was stronger and the characters a little more entertaining, Three Assassins really stands on its own and proves to be an excellent read.

Isaka clearly had a lot of fun with the awesome characters contained within Three Assassins, as this book features an eclectic mix of unusual and entertaining figures who make Tokyo’s underworld seem like a weird and deadly place to explore.  This novel is primarily anchored by its three main point-of-view characters, each of whom is a particularly complex and unique being that will quickly drag the reader in with their intriguing stories or antics.  This includes central character Suzuki, the former teacher turned attempted gangster, who is initially involved with this plot for revenge, and who has done some dark things in order to get there.  However, when the target of his revenge is killed and Suzuki seems to find the life of the Pusher and his family in his hands, he starts to have a real crisis of conscience and must determine what he really wants to do.  Watching him attempt to weigh up the lives of the family he encounters versus some hostages Fräulein potentially has is extremely intense and results in some major examinations of his conscience.  Suzuki also serves the role of the unenlightened character for most of the book as he is mostly ignorant of the various assassins and outrageous characters running around out there.  As such, he serves as a good introductory character for many of these unique world elements, and it was very entertaining to see him interact with some of the other characters for the first time without a clue about who or what they are.

The Whale and Cicada are both complex and weird figures for very different reasons.  The Whale is a highly unusual assassin who specialises in arranging deaths to look like suicides.  A large man with an unnatural aura, the Whale is “blessed” with a near supernatural ability to talk people into killing themselves.  This is a pretty unique and cool character trait which Isaka does a wonderful job portraying throughout Three Assassins.  Watching this character slowly and calmly talk various characters into killing themselves results in some naturally dark scenes, but they are a great part of the book and really add something to the distinctive feel of the book.  At the same time, Isaka tries to humanise the Whale to a degree by showing him to be haunted by the ghosts of everyone he has killed.  These ghosts routinely appear before him, airing their grievances with him while also blotting out his ability to see other people or things.  This serves to be an intriguing handicap for this otherwise unstoppable figure, and it proved fascinating to see this merciless killer face some substantial reservations about his work and slowly start to rethink his life and choices.  The Whale easily has some of the most complicated and intriguing scenes in the entire novel and it proves extremely fascinating to see his entire arc unfold.

Cicada, on the other hand, is a somewhat less complex figure who serves as the book’s comic relief.  A skilled knifeman who lacks empathy, Cicada has earned a reputation as a man who can take on the unpleasant jobs and is often hired to kill women and children.  However, Cicada finds himself in a very hostile working relationship with his boss and handler, Iwanishi, who treats him poorly.  This toxic relationship becomes the imperative for Cicada to engage in the hunt for the Pusher, as a form of finding his own independence, although nothing goes to plan.  Cicada is an excellent and enjoyable character, and you will quickly find yourself getting attached to the quick-talking killer, even when he does some terrible things.  The most physically gifted of all the characters, Cicada is often dragged into some of the book’s best fight scenes, and it was exciting to see his knife skills in action.  Thanks to his unique humour and continual banter, Cicada proves to be a great counterpoint to the book’s darker or more emotionally distressed characters like Suzuki and the Whale, and I think that his inclusion really helped to balance out the tone of the book.  All three characters and their chapters play off each other extremely well, and they help to form a captivating and amusing overall story.

Three Assassins was another awesome read from Kotaro Isaka that takes readers on a wild and exciting journey to Japan’s outrageous underworld of assassins.  Filled with quirky characters, surprising turns and intense action, this is a fantastic novel and you will swiftly get addicted to its entertaining and captivating story.  A must read for fans of this legendary Japanese author, especially in advance of the upcoming Bullet Train film, Three Assassins comes highly recommended and is really worth checking out.

Book Haul – 3 April 2022

I have been having an absolutely fantastic couple of week for books, as I have been lucky enough to receive several incredible and amazing new novels from some of my local publishers.  These novels include some truly awesome new releases, several of which I have been eagerly awaiting for some time.  I am extremely keen to check out all of the books below (indeed, I have already gotten through a couple), and they should make for some amazing reads.

Usagi Yojimbo: Tengu War by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo - Tengu War!

I was extremely happy to get my copy of the latest Usagi Yojimbo volume, Tengu War!.  The Usagi Yojimbo series by Stan Sakai is one of my favourite comic series and I have been eagerly waiting for this comic for some time (it was one of my most anticipated reads of 2022).  I actually read Tengu War! the day I received it and it was pretty damn amazing.  I am hoping to get the review for it up soon and needless to say it will get a five-star rating from me.

 

An Empty Throne by Robert Fabbri 

An Empty Throne Cover

Another recent acquisition that I have been looking forward to for a while was the third book in Robert Fabbri’s Alexander’s Legacy series, An Empty Throne.  Following on from the previous books in the series, To the Strongest and The Three Paradises, An Empty Throne will continue to follow the chaos that emerged in the aftermath of Alexander the Great’s death as his former advisors, relatives and friends, fought for his empire.  I have been really enjoying this series over the last few years and I cannot wait to see what wacky events from history are contained in this next book.

 

Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone Cover

I was very happy to receive this very fun book from Australian author Benjamin Stevenson, Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone.  Stevenson, who previously wrote the murder mystery novels Greenlight and Either Side of Midnight, has come up with something pretty spectacular here with Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone, which I have already finished.  This awesome novel, which brilliantly mixes comedy, mystery and multiple homages to classic whodunits, places a troubled Australian family in the midst of several suspicious deaths at a remote location, and forces them to solve it.  Utterly hilarious and extremely clever, I had an absolute blast from this book and I will be putting up an extremely positive review for it soon.

 

Three Assassins by Kotaro Isaka

Three Assassins Cover

I was also extremely fortunate to receive a copy of the English translation of Three Assassins by Japanese author Kotaro Isaka, which I am extremely excited to read.  I had an amazing time reading Isaka’s previous novel, Bullet Train, last year and Three Assassins sounds like it is in a similar vein to it, setting someone against three outrageous assassins.  Sure to be filled with laughs, odd characters and brutal action, I cannot wait to check this book out and will probably dive into next.

 

Esther’s Children by Caroline Beecham

Esther's Children Cover

I just received an electronic advanced proof of the intriguing upcoming historical drama, Esther’s Children by Caroline Beecham.  Set around World War II, this novel follows a young woman who works at an organisation that tried to rescue Jewish academics and scholars from Europe.  Sure to be powerful, romantic and moving, I am curious to check this book out, especially after enjoyed Beecham’s last novel, Finding Eadie.  I was very happy to see that they have used my Canberra Weekly review for Finding Eadie inside this new book, and I hope to read this latest novel soon.

Esther's Children Front Page

 

Amongst Our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch

Amongst our Weapons Cover

I was naturally extremely happy to receive the latest Rivers of London novel by Ben Aaronovitch, Amongst our Weapons.  The latest book in one of the best urban fantasy series out there, Amongst our Weapons is one of the most anticipated fantasy novels of 2022 and I am extremely keen to read it.  I had a great time with Aaronovitch’s previous two novels, Lies Sleeping and False Value, and Amongst our Weapons has a great plot to it involving someone using magic to rob the London Silver Vaults.  I already know this is going to be a top read and I look forward to seeing how it all comes together.

 

Death of the Black Widow by James Patterson and J. D. Barker

Death of the Black Widow Cover

Superstar crime fiction author, James Patterson, returns with another collaboration, this time with acclaimed writer J. D. Barker, for their new book Death of the Black Widow.  This cool new is a gripping and intriguing crime fiction read that sets a rookie police officer chasing after a mysterious, alluring and very dangerous woman.  I really like the sound of this awesome book and I am hoping to read it in the next few weeks.

 

Nobody But Us by Laure Van Rensburg

Nobody But Us Cover

One of the more intriguing novels I  recently received was Nobody But Us by new author Laure Van Rensburg.  This dark and compelling thriller sees a mismatched couple take an unusual trip to the remote countryside, with both lying about their intentions for being there.  I am very taken by this mysterious and awesome novel, and I look forward to seeing what sort of devious tale Van Rensburg has come up with.

 

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

The Diamond Eye Cover

Another fantastic historical drama I was lucky enough to receive is The Diamond Eye by the extremely talented Kate Quinn.  The Diamond Eye follows a young woman from Kiev who becomes a notorious and deadly sniper during the Nazi invasion in World War II.  I love the sound of this awesome book, especially as it is particularly topical at the moment, and I am extremely confident that Quinn has come up with a compelling and powerful tale here.

 

Ordinary Monsters by J. M. Miro

Ordinary Monsters Cover

I was also extremely fortunate to receive a copy of Ordinary Monsters by J. M. Miro, an intriguing and comprehensive young adult fantasy novel set in 19th century London and Edinburgh.  This fascinating novel will follow individuals with unique abilities who have been gathered together in a mysterious institute.  I have been hearing some good things about this book and it sounds like this could be the start of the next big young adult series.  As such, I should probably clear some room in my reading schedule soon in order to get through this fantastic novel.

 

Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

Mr Mercedes Cover 1

I also recently had a successful visit to a second-hand book shop and picked up a couple of older books from author’s I have been enjoying recently.  The first of these is the classic Mr Mercedes by legendary author Stephen King.  I had an amazing time reading King’s 2021 novels, Later and Billy Summers, and I thought it was time I expand my King knowledge.  Mr Mercedes seemed liked a great place to start, especially as one of the protagonists from it is apparently set to appear in some of King’s upcoming books, and I cannot wait to see how this gritty thriller comes together.

 

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

The Late Show Cover

The other second-hand book I got was The Late Show by Michael Connelly, which serves as the very first Renee Ballard book.  I have had a great time reading all of Connelly’s other books featuring Ballard, including Dark Sacred Night, The Night Fire, and The Dark Hours, so I thought it would be worth my time going back and seeing the first book she appeared in.  The Late Show has a really intriguing sounding mystery to it and I can’t wait to see the earlier adventure of this tenacious protagonist.  I will hopefully feature The Late Show in a Throwback Thursday article soon, I just need to find sometime to read this book in between all the fun new releases.

 

 

Well that’s the end of this latest Book Haul post.  As you can see I have quite a bit of reading to do at the moment thanks to all these awesome books that have come in.  Let me know which of the above you are most interested in and make sure to check back in a few weeks to see my reviews of them.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books on my Autumn 2022 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official Top Ten Tuesday topic for this week was around Dynamic Duos, however, I decided to instead move up my quarterly post about the best upcoming books to read (TBR) for the following three months.  This is a regular post I do at the start of each season, and as this Tuesday is just before Autumn (Spring for you folks in the Northern Hemisphere), this is the ideal time to put this up.

For this list, I have come up with 10 of the most anticipated novels that are coming out between 1 March 2022 and 31 May 2022.  There are quite a few very cool novels set for release in the next few months that I am extremely excited for, including some of my most anticipated books and fantasy novels of the year.  Due to how impressive some of these upcoming books are, it took me a little while to finalise my list but I was eventually able to whittle it down into a Top Ten list (with a few honourable mentions).  I have primarily used the Australian publication dates to reflect when I will be able to get these awesome novels, and these might be somewhat different to the rest of the world.  I have previously discussed a number of these books before in prior Top Ten Tuesdays and Waiting on Wednesday articles and I think all of them will turn out to be pretty incredible reads.  I have extremely excited for the next three months as quite a few up these upcoming reads are easily going to be amongst the best books of 2022.

Honourable Mentions:

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi – 15 March 2022

The Kaiju Preservation Society Cover

A fun romp with giant monsters that is going to be so very entertaining.

 

Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson – 29 March 2022

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone Cover

A great upcoming book with a fantastic concept, Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone is the latest thriller from Australian author Benjamin Stevenson (Greenlight and Either Side of Midnight).  This cool novel will see an entire family with murderous secrets start killing each other during a deadly family reunion, and I know I am going to love it. 

 

Amongst our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch – 12 April 2022

Amongst our Weapons Cover

Impressive fantasy author Ben Aaronovitch returns with the latest book in his Rivers of London series that follows a special police unit that investigates magical crimes in London.  This series perfectly blends urban fantasy with police procedural elements (check out my reviews for Lies Sleeping and False Value), and I look forward to seeing what happens next.

 

One Foot in the Fade by Luke Arnold – 26 April 2022

One Foot in the Fade Cover

After having a brilliant 2020 with his first two novels, The Last Smile in Sunder City (one of the best debuts of 2020) and Dead Man in a Ditch, Luke Arnold returns to the deadly Sunder City, a former stronghold of magic that has fallen into devastating ruin following the destruction all magic in the world.  One Foot in the Fade will continue to follow Arnold’s detective character as he attempts to bring back magic and save the former magical creatures he doomed to an early grave.

Top Ten List:

Usagi Yojimbo: Tengu War! by Stan Sakai – 22 March 2022

Usagi Yojimbo - Tengu War!

The first entry on this list is the next upcoming Usagi Yojimbo comic, Tengu War!.  I had this book on my last TBR list, but the release date got knocked back to March, so I am featuring it again here.  I am extremely keen for this comic and I cannot wait to see what epic adventure Usagi gets into next.

 

Kingdoms of Death by Christopher Ruocchio – 22 March 2022

Kingdom of Death Cover 2

An incredible sounding entry in one of the best current science fiction series.

 

An Empty Throne by Robert Fabbri – 1 April 2022

An Empty Throne Cover

More chaos in the aftermath of Alexander the Great’s death.

 

The Bladed Faith by David Dalglish – 5 April 2022

The Bladed Faith Cover

Assassins, deposed kings, and dead gods should lead to an epic read.

 

Desperate Undertakings by Lindsey Davis – 7 April 2022

Desperate Undertaking Cover 1

The next Flavia Albia novel from legendary historical fiction author Lindsey Davis, who has produced some outstanding books in recent years (check out my reviews for Pandora’s Boy, A Capitol Death and The Grove of the Caesars).  This next entertaining sounding novel will follow its protagonist as she investigates several despicable deaths around ancient Rome.  Sure to be a ball of fun, I am extremely keen to check it out.

 

The Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne – 12 April 2022

The Hunger of the Gods Cover

Still my favourite cover of 2022.

 

Three Assassins by Kotaro Isaka – 12 April 2022

Three Assassins Cover

Last year I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Kotaro Isaka’s Bullet Train, the English translations of one of his impressive Japanese books.  I had a ton of fun with this clever thriller and I was extremely excited to find out that Isaka had a new book coming out this year with Three Assassins.  His new book will pit another unique group of assassins against each other and should make for an extremely captivating read.

 

The Girl and the Moon by Mark Lawrence – 4 May 2022

The Girl and the Moon Cover

One of the most intriguing current masters of fantasy fiction, the impressive Mark Lawrence brings his clever Book of the Ice trilogy to and end this year with The Girl and the Moon.  I have deeply enjoyed this cool series over the last two years, with the first two entries, The Girl and the Stars and The Girl and the Mountain, being extremely impressive reads.  I cannot wait to see how this series ends I am expecting heartbreak, destruction and some powerful moments.

 

Star Wars: Brotherhood by Mike Chen – 10 May 2022

Star Wars - Brotherhood Cover

Return to the Clone Wars with this awesome upcoming Star Wars novel.

 

Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry – 10 May 2022

Kagen the Damned Cover

My favourite thriller author dives into fantasy fiction this year with an intense revenge story I am already predicting will be a five-star read.

 

 

Well, that is the end of my Top Ten list.  I think it turned out pretty well and it does a good job of capturing all my most anticipated books for the next three months.  Each of the above should be extremely epic, and I cannot wait to read each of them soon.  Let me know which of the above you are most excited for and stay tuned for reviews of them in the next few months.  In the meantime, it looks like I have quite a few books to get through soon and they should all be pretty awesome.

Top Ten Tuesday – Favourite New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2021

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was 2021 releases I was excited to read but didn’t get to, however, I addressed that topic in my post last week.  So instead of covering that, this week I will look at my favourite new-to-me authors that I discovered in 2021.  This is a list I have covered for the last couple of years (make sure to check out my 2019 and 2020 versions), and it is one that I always have fun doing.

Each year I am lucky enough to read a great number of awesome novels and this often includes some that were written by authors whose work I was previously unfamiliar with.  2021 was a good example of this as there were an incredible collection of amazing novels written by authors who were completely new to me.  This included some debuting authors, as well as more established writers whose work I only got around to this year.  Many of these new-to-me authors produced some truly exceptional reads, some of which I consider to be some of the best books released in 2021, and I really feel the need to highlight them here.  As a result, this list may feature a bit of overlap with my top books, pre-2021 books and audiobooks lists of 2021 that I have previously published on this blog.

To appear on this list, the book had to be one I read last year and be written by an author who I was unfamiliar with before 2021.  If I had not read anything from this author before last year, it was eligible for this latest list, although I did exclude debut novels as I had another list prepared for them.  Despite this, I ended up with a massive list of potential inclusions on this list, as it appears that I read a ton of great new authors in the last year.  Despite my best efforts, I had a very hard time whittling this list down, so in the end I decided to face the inevitable and leave it as a top 20 list.  While I still had to exclude several great authors whose books I really liked, I think that I came up with a good overall list that represents which authors I am really glad that I decided to try out for the first time last year.

Top Twenty List:

William King – Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, Daemonslayer, and Dragonslayer

Slayers Coveres

Well, let us start this list off with an author I read multiple books from in 2021 with William King.  I was in a real Warhammer mood in 2021, and as part of the that I decided to check out the iconic Gotrek and Felix series that was initially written by King.  This great series follows a deranged dwarf Slayer and his reluctant human companion as they travel around the Warhammer Fantasy world looking for a monster bad enough to give Gotrek the heroic death he desperately wants.  I really love this amazing series and I ended up reading the first four of King’s Gotrek and Felix books in 2021, Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, Daemonslayer and Dragonslayer, each of which were a lot of fun.  I have even kept reading King’s books in 2022, having only recently read and reviewed the fifth Gotrek and Felix novel, Beastslayer.  I fully intend to keep reading this series this year when I get a chance, and I reckon I will finish off King’s entire run on this series extremely soon.

 

Jeremy Robinson – The Dark and Mind Bullet

The Dark and Mind Bullet Cover

The other new-to-me author who I read more than one book from in 2021 was Jeremy Robinson, an awesome author known for his over-the-top science fiction and horror books.  I was initially drawn to Robinson’s interesting dark horror read, The Dark, which sets a group of protagonists against a deadly demonic invasion, and which had a brilliant story to it.  I ended up enjoying it so much that I decided to check out any other books that Robinson had coming out in 2021 and that led me to his latest release, Mind Bullet, which follows a psychic assassin who finds himself being hunted by a cadre of unconventional and superpowered hitmen.  I had an absolute blast reading these cool books, and the both received easy five-star ratings from me.  Due to how much fun I had with these books I plan to read a hell of a lot more from Robinson this year, especially as he has some cool releases on the way.

 

Tess Sharpe – The Girls I’ve Been

The Girls I've Been Cover

One of the more interesting authors I checked out in 2021 was young adult author Tess Sharpe who wowed me with her cool novel, The Girls I’ve Been.  This fantastic novel followed a teenage former con-artist who is forced to revert to her old ways to save herself and her friends from vicious bank robbers.  Clever, compelling and deeply thrilling, I have so much love for this novel and I cannot wait to see what cool books Sharpe rights in the future.

 

John Gwynne – The Shadow of the Gods

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

One of the best new-to-me authors I read last year was legendary fantasy author John Gwynne.  Gwynne, who has written some very highly regarded dark fantasy books in the past presented The Shadow of the Gods last year, which was the first book in his new Bloodsworn Saga series.  I initially hadn’t planned to read this book but after hearing so many positive reviews about it I changed my mind and was extremely glad that I did.  The Shadow of the Gods was an epic and captivating read that featured action and adventure in an awesome, Viking-inspired fantasy landscape.  This was such an incredible book (with a really amazing cover) and it made me an instant fan of this author.  I cannot wait to see where this series goes next, and I really need to go back and read some of Gwynne’s earlier series.

 

Mara Timon – Resistance

Resistance Cover

I was also lucky enough to read the fantastic historical thriller Resistance towards the end of last year written by relatively new author Mara Timon.  Resistance was a sequel to Timon’s 2020 debut City of Spies and contains a great story about a female spy dropped into occupied Normandy shortly before the D-Day landings.  This was an excellent spy thriller and I look forward to seeing what other cool books Timon writes in the future.

 

Nate Crowley – The Twice-Dead King: Ruin

The Twice-Dead King - Ruin Cover

Another great new-to-me author of Warhammer fiction I read last year was the insanely talented Nate Crowley who presented his first The Twice-Dead King novel, RuinRuin followed a banished Necron prince as he attempts to save his former empire from internal corruption and destructive outside forces.  Breathing amazing life into essentially dead characters, this was a fantastic and intense Warhammer read that I had a great time with.  I cannot wait to see how the series continues in 2022 and I will also try to read some of Crowley’s other cool Warhammer releases.

 

Kotaro Isaka – Bullet Train

Bullet Train Cover

I was very excited to check out a book from Japanese thriller author Kotaro Isaka last year with Bullet Train.  A translation of his 2010 novel Maria Beetle, this book featured a complex and quirky tale about several assassins trapped on the same bullet train.  I had an incredible time with this book, especially as Isaka loaded it with some amazing twists and very unique characters.  Thanks to the success of this book, and the cool upcoming (if somewhat whitewashed) film adaptation of Bullet Train, several of the author’s other novels are being translated and I look forward to seeing what other crazy adventures he has come up with.

 

Kelly Rimmer – The Warsaw Orphan

The Warsaw Orphan Cover

Another great new author I found in 2021 was historical drama writer Kelly Rimmer whose latest book, The Warsaw Orphan, was an outstanding and powerful read.  Set in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation, this book follows a group of people who attempt to save Jewish children from the Ghetto.  A heartbreaking and riveting read, The Warsaw Orphan was an amazing book and I will be keeping an eye out for more of Rimmer’s stuff in the future.

 

Andy Weir – Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary Cover

One of the best books I had the pleasure to read in 2021 was Project Hail Mary, an impressive and clever science fiction novel by bestselling author Andy Weir.  I have been meaning to read some of Weir’s books for years, especially after seeing the movie adaptation of The Martian, but I never got the chance.  As such I was extremely keen to read his latest book when it came out last year and boy did Project Hail Mary deliver.  Containing an epic and brilliant story filled with realistic science, I loved every second I spent reading this book and I honestly could not put it down.  I am now a firm fan of the author and I fully intend to read the rest of Weir’s works as soon as possible.

 

Josh Reynolds – Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty

Kal Jerico - Sinner's Bounty Cover

There was no way that I couldn’t check out fantastic author Josh Reynolds this year especially after I saw that he had brought back one of my favourite Warhammer 40,000 characters, Kal Jerico.  This cool new book, Sinner’s Bounty, sets the titular bounty hunter and his friends on an insane journey into the depths of their Hive City to retrieve a wanted man.  Forced to contend with rival bounty hunters, monsters, mutants, and gangs, this was an amazing read and I will be checking out more of Reynolds’ Warhammer books in the future, especially if they feature Kal Jerico.

 

Sarah Bailey – The Housemate

The Housemate Cover

I was very lucky to grab a novel from amazing Australian author Sarah Bailey this year.  Her latest book, The Housemate, was a brilliant novel that saw a disturbed reporter attempt to solve a notorious crime that had been haunting her for years.  Incredibly powerful, compelling and intense, this was one of the best Australian books of 2021 and I will be very interested to see what other cool books Bailey writes in the future.

 

Steve Cavanagh – The Devil’s Advocate

The Devil's Advocate Cover

Easily one of the more entertaining books I read in 2021 was the fun and wildly addictive legal thriller by Steve Cavanagh, The Devil’s Advocate.  The sixth book in his Eddie Flynn series, The Devil’s Advocate was a great novel that saw its former conman turned defence attorney protagonist attempt to stop a murderous prosecutor determined to send an innocent man to death row.  I had an amazing time with this compelling and over-the-top read, and I now really want to go back and read the rest of the awesome novels in this cool series.

 

Anthony Ryan – The Pariah

The Pariah Cover

Another instant favourite new author I checked out last year was impressive well-established fantasy author Anthony Ryan.  Ryan is another author who I have been meaning to read for a while and it turns out I have been really missing out.  His latest book, The Pariah, was an excellent and compelling first entry in a great new series that follows a young scribe as he journeys around a fantasy world trying to find his purpose.  An epic first book, I cannot wait to see how this series continues and I know I am going to love it.

 

John Grisham – The Judge’s List

The Judge's List Cover

Perhaps one of the biggest names on this list is bestselling author John Grisham, who has been at the top of the crime fiction genre for decades.  Grisham is one of those massive authors whose work I have been meaning to read for a very long time but never got the chance.  Well, that all changed last year when I received a copy of his latest book, The Judge’s List, which sets some clever protagonists against a dangerous serial killer who is also a sitting judge.  I had an incredible time with The Judge’s List, and I am fully planning to check out the rest of Grisham’s catalogue to see what I have been missing out on.

 

Dan Abnett – First and Only

First and Only Cover

Wow there were so many awesome new-to-me Warhammer authors I checked out last year and one of the best was Dan Abnett.  Abnett has written a ton of awesome Warhammer novels over the years, but the first book of his I decided to check out was First and Only, the initial book of his iconic Gaunt’s Ghosts series.  Following a regiment of Imperial Guard soldiers as they fight through a gauntlet of traitors, rivals and conspiracies, this was an outstanding novel and I cannot wait to see what happens in the rest of this impressive series.

 

A. W. Hammond – The Paris Collaborator

The Paris Collaborator Cover

I had a great time checking out thriller author A. W. Hammond for the first time in 2021.  Hammond, who also writes under the name Alex Hammond, produced an exceptional and fun historical thriller last year with The Paris Collaborator.  Set in the last days of the German occupation of Paris, this cool book follows a French investigator who is hired to find several missing men around the city.  Filled with cool action, intense twists and some excellent historical moments, this was a great read and I will be keeping an eye out for more of Hammond’s novels in the future.

 

Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman – All of Us Villains

All of us Villains Cover

I am slightly cheating here by including two authors in the one entry, but as this was the first time I had read anything from either of them and they were collaborating on the same book, I think I can make an exception.  These two authors were Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman, a great team of established authors who collaborated for the first time to create the amazing All of Us VillainsAll of Us Villains was an excellent and entertaining young adult fantasy book that followed seven champions forced into a magical death tournament with the entire world watching.  Loaded with amazing characters and brutal magic, this was an awesome book and I am extremely glad I decided to check out this intriguing team of authors last year.

 

Max Barry – The 22 Murders of Madison May

The 22 Murders of Madison May Cover

I had been meaning to read something from talented Australian author Max Barry for a while, especially as he has written some great and compelling sounding science fiction reads.  I finally got a chance last year when I received a copy of Barry’s latest book, The 22 Murders of Madison May.  This was a cool book that saw a women attempt to stop a deranged stalker from killing every version of his obsession, actress Madison May, in the multiverse.  I deeply enjoyed this complex and entertaining story and I will have to grab some more stuff from Barry in the future.

 

Grady Hendrix – The Final Girl Support Group

The Final Girl Support Group Cover

One author I have been hearing a lot of buzz around over the years is Grady Hendrix, who has written several intriguing and unique horror hybrid novels.  Due to all the positive stuff I have heard about this author I decided to check out one of their books last year with their 2021 release, The Final Girl Support Group.  Set in a world were the survivors of iconic slasher scenarios have formed a support group, this cool novel follows these paranoid and damaged protagonists as they attempt to survive a new monster who is determined to kill them.  An impressive homage to iconic slasher films that cleverly deconstructs the genre, this was a very fun read and I am extremely glad I decided to check out Grady Hendrix last year.

 

S. R. White – Prisoner

The Prisoner Cover

The final top new-to-me author I read last year was Australian author S. R. White, who released their second novel Prisoner.  This was an enjoyable and captivating Australian murder mystery novel that had a very gritty and realistic feel to it, especially in some impressive interrogation scenes.  An excellent novel from a great new author I will have to read more of in the future.

 

 

Well, that’s the end of this latest Top Ten list.  I think it turned out rather well and it encapsulates some of the best new authors I checked out in 2021.  I look forward to reading more books from these authors in the future and I have no doubt they will produce more epic and incredible reads.  Make sure to let me know which new authors you enjoyed in 2021 in the comments below and make sure to check back next week for another exciting list.

Bullet Train by Kōtarō Isaka

Bullet Train Cover

Publisher: Harvill Secker (Trade Paperback – 16 March 2021)

English translation by Sam Malissa

Series: Standalone

Length: 415 pages

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Thriller is a genre that I have only really started reading in the last couple of years and it is swiftly growing to become one of the top types of novels I tend to check out.  While most of the thrillers I read are somewhat mainstream and from authors I have read before, I occasionally branch out and check out something from an unfamiliar author if it has an unusual-sounding plot synopsis which really grabs my attention.  One of the most recent of these was Bullet Train by bestselling Japanese author Kōtarō Isaka, which I was lucky enough to receive a copy of a little while ago.  Bullet Train, which is the first English translation of Isaka’s 2010 standalone novel, Maria Bītoru (Maria Beetle), is a unique and clever thriller which follows five very unusual killers who find themselves aboard the same ill-fated train ride.

On a seemingly normal day, a bullet train is setting out from Tokyo, making its regular trip to Morioka, with several stops planned along the way.  As the train leaves, everything appears quiet, except for the fact that five dangerous killers are on-board, each of them with a very different mission in mind.  The youngest killer, Satoshi, looks like an innocent schoolboy, but in reality his is a psychotic master manipulator, easily able to get people to do what he wants.  His latest victim was Kimura’s young son, who is now in a coma after being thrown off a building.  Kimura, a former hitter turned alcoholic, has tracked Satoshi to the train and intends to kill the youth in revenge.  However, when Kimura underestimates his opponent, he soon finds himself in the middle of a dangerous game of survival, as he and Satoshi encounter some of the other passengers on board.

Nanao, the self-proclaimed ‘unluckiest assassin in the world’, has a relatively simple retrieval job that requires him to spend only a few minutes on the train.  However, when his unnatural bad luck conspires to keep him trapped aboard, he is forced into a desperate battle for survival.  At the same time, the lethal and unconventional assassin partners, Tangerine and Lemon, are also travelling to Morioka, until an untimely death puts them in the crosshairs of a notorious crime lord.  When a suitcase full of money also disappears, all five killers are forced to show their hands, beginning a desperate battle aboard the moving train.  However, as things get serious, the killers begin to wonder why all of them are aboard the same train and who is really pulling their strings.  As the bullet train pulls closer to its destination, betrayals, manipulations and secrets are revealed, and not everyone will survive to reach the last station.

Now this was an extremely awesome and deeply impressive novel that I am so very glad I decided to check out.  This translated novel from Isaka, an author who has written a massive collection of mystery and thriller novels over the last 20 years, including several that have been adapted into films, was a clever, fast-paced thrill ride that follows several awesome and captivating assassin characters.  This resulted in an epic and compelling read which proved to be extremely addictive and is one of the most entertaining books that I have read this year.

I absolutely loved Bullet Train’s slick and clever story that quickly dives between the book’s various characters.  Split between the five central killer protagonists, as well as a few intriguing supporting characters, Bullet Train has a particularly intricate narrative that is heavy on the twists, rapid turns and unique moments.  Isaka does an exceptional job setting the scene and introducing each of the great characters, and the reader is soon engrossed in seeing how the story and individual character arcs play out.  It does not take long for all five main characters to find themselves involved in some surprising and dangerous situations, which they must work to extricate themselves from.  As each character attempts to deal with their own problems, be they a dead client, stolen money, blackmail or being suddenly forced to deal with a dead body, their various storylines soon begin to intersect.  The way in which the individual storylines come together works extremely well and it proves to be extremely entertaining to see to the vibrant and distinctive personalities of each of the protagonists clash against each other when they meet.  Their intriguing interactions include some intense action sequences, clever manipulations and even some amusing confrontations that include anything from philosophical debates to discussions about a certain children’s show.  At the same time, the characters are also forced to contend with several additional complicating factors, including other killers aboard the train, seemingly oblivious onlookers, secrets from the past and a dangerous long-reaching plot.  All of this leads to an epic and clever conclusion that sees several protagonists die and a number of clever twists come to fruition.  I honestly did not see some of these cool twists coming and I ended up on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next and which of the characters were going to survive the whole thing.  I ended up being really impressed with this cool book and I really enjoyed this thrilling and compelling read.

While Bullet Train’s narrative itself is extremely cool, the true highlight of this epic book is the five killer main characters of the story.  All of these main characters are a lot of fun and the author has imbued them with some excellent and memorable traits and personalities.  All five characters add so much to the story in their own right, but their real strength is the way in which they interact with each other.  The way in which these unique protagonists play off each other is just perfect and it was great to see them get the measure of each other and fully understand just whom they are dealing with.  You really get invested in each of these five characters fates and it is rather interesting to see who survives until the end and who comes out on top.

The first two major characters featured within the book are the interesting combination of vengeful former hitman Yuichi Kimura and teenage manipulator Satoshi Oji.  Kimura is a recovering alcoholic who is hunting Satoshi due to the teen’s role in Kimura’s son getting pushed off a roof and ending up in hospital.  However, his attempts at revenge are quickly thwarted by Satoshi, whose nickname “the Prince” tells you pretty much all you need to know about the kid.  Using threats towards his comatose son, the Prince manipulates Kimura into helping him investigate the strange events occurring on the train, and the two quickly find themselves in the middle of the dangerous situations, with Kimura attempting to find a way to save his son while the Prince attempts to work the situation to his own advantage.  Both fantastic killers are well-written and compelling characters who add a significant amount to the tale.  You really get invested in Kimura’s struggle to save his son and overcome his own inner demons, while Satoshi serves as a particularly unlikeable villain, who you really want to suffer, even if he is a teenager.  Isaka also throws in a few intriguing flashbacks which highlight how the rivalry between the two started, and which helps to dive into both insecurities and fears.  Both end up having fantastic story arcs within this book, and I really enjoyed the complex web that the author wove around the two.

Another of the main characters is Nanao, a young professional killer with a conscience who has only recently entered into the game.  Nanao is an absolute sweetheart whose most defining characteristic is his abysmal bad luck, which plagues him throughout the course of the book.  It proves rather amusing to see all the dramatic and amusing setbacks that happen to Nanao during Bullet Train, and it quickly becomes apparent that he is actually cursed, a fact that he faces with particular sadness and a certain amount of fatalism.  You cannot help but feel for Nanao as the book progresses, and there is something about his general unhappiness with the situation that draws the reader to him.  Thankfully, he is also a particularly skilled operative, especially in dangerous situations, which gives him a fighting chance against his opponents, and the times when this resourcefulness appears are pretty awesome.  I personally felt that Nanao’s story arc was one of the best in all of Bullet Train and I really loved seeing the other side of the characters’ unluckiness eventually come into play, even if the protagonists never realised just what happened to him.

The final two killers featured within Bullet Train are the memorable partnership of Tangerine and Lemon.  Despite their similar appearance which makes many people believe that they are twins, Tangerine and Lemon are very different people, both with unique personalities that clash with one and other.  While Tangerine is the well-organised professional with a love for classic literature, Lemon is the wild card, a seemingly flaky and eccentric killer with an unnatural appreciation for the children’s show Thomas and Friends.  This makes for a very entertaining odd-couple pairing, as the two characters, who at times appear not to even like or understand each other, need to sort through the chaotic situation about the train.  While Tangerine is an enjoyable character who serves as a good straight man to some of the more outrageous personalities aboard, I definitely enjoyed Lemon way more.  Lemon is a wildly entertaining and captivating character whose unique viewpoint on life, which is inspired by Thomas and Friends, is both childlike and clever at the same time.  I really enjoyed seeing some of Lemon’s reactions and solutions to the problems he encounters, especially as he mainly draws on lessons from the characters in Thomas in Friends, when it comes to judging people (you really do not want to be a mean old Diesel).  This leads to some great scenes, especially as he can see through manipulations that have tricked some of the other characters.  It was also great to see the full breadth of the friendship between Tangerine and Lemon become clear as the book continued, especially as it leads to one of the best scenes in the entire book.  Each of these character arcs ended up being truly spectacular and I had an outstanding time seeing each of their unique tales unfold.

Bullet Train by Kōtarō Isaka was an epic and immensely captivating read that comes highly recommended.  I deeply enjoyed the unique and exciting tale told within it, loaded as it was with all manner of cool twists and surprise reveals, and I cannot emphasise how awesome the main five characters were.  This was a superb read and I will have to keep an eye out for English translations of any of Isaka’s other books.  I am also quite excited for the upcoming film adaption of this book, also titled Bullet Train.  I assume that this English translation novel is the result of the major Hollywood adaption of Maria Bītoru that is currently in production, and which looks set to feature an impressive array of actors including Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Zazie Beets, Lady Gaga and Sandra Bullock.  While I am a little uncertain about why a film set on a bullet train in Japan is going to feature a primarily American cast, this looks set to be a fun movie, especially if it lives up to this impressive and clever novel.

Make sure to also check out my review for the connected Kotaro Isaka novel, Three Assassins, here.

WWW Wednesday – 17 March 2021

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Dangerous Women by Hope Adams (Trade Paperback)

Dangerous Women Cover

 

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst (Audiobook)

The Bone Maker Cover

 

What did you recently finish reading?

Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka (Trade Paperback)

Bullet Train Cover

 

The Kaiser’s Web by Steve Berry (Audiobook)

The Kaiser's Web Cover

 

The Codebreakers by Alli Sinclair (Trade Paperback)

The Codebreakers Cover

 

What do you think you’ll read next?

The Three Paradises by Robert Fabbri (Trade Paperback)

The Three Paradises Cover

 

That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.

WWW Wednesday – 10 March 2021

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka (Trade Paperback)

Bullet Train Cover

I started reading this fun translated thriller from Japan a couple of days ago and I am really loving it.  Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka follows five killers who find themselves aboard the same bullet train and are forced to engage in a deadly game of cat and mouse when a suitcase full of money is stolen.  This is an extremely fun and compelling read and I look forward to seeing all the twists unfold.

The Kaiser’s Web by Steve Berry (Audiobook)

The Kaiser's Web Cover

It looks like I am in a bit of a thriller mood this week as the other book I am working through is The Kaiser’s Web by Steve Berry.  The Kaiser’s Web is the latest entry in the long running Cotton Malone series which involves a series of unique historical conspiracies.  I have really enjoyed this last few books in this series, The Malta Exchange and The Warsaw Protocol, and so far The Kaiser’s Web is turning out to be pretty awesome.  This latest book is based around secrets that survived Hitler’s bunker impacting a modern day German election and it will be interesting to see how Berry wraps up this captivating conspiracy.

What did you recently finish reading?

The Art of Death by David Fennell (Trade Paperback)

The Art of Death Cover

Relentless by Mark Greaney (Audiobook)

Relentless by Mark Greaney Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

The Three Paradises by Robert Fabbri (Trade Paperback)

The Three Paradises Cover

That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.