Saturday, February 25, 2023

Bullet Train: Kotaro Isaka



When the story opens, all we know is that Yuichi Kimura is boarding the Bullet train at Tokyo station to seek revenge on a person called the Prince, who is responsible for his young son's fall from a building, which put the boy in a coma. The Prince turns out to be a teenager, around 14 years old. Initially it is hard to take in this situation, but it is soon clear that the Prince is truly a psychopath, and enjoys toying with people's lives and their emotions.

Also on board are the deadly duo Tangerine and Lemon. Their goal is returning two things to a major crime lord, Minegishi: his son, who had been kidnapped, and a suitcase full of money. Nanao, also known as Ladybug, is an unlucky and self-deprecating criminal. His assignment is to steal the suitcase full of money and get off the train as soon as possible. He is guided in his mission by Maria, who is not on the train but keeps in touch by cell phone. 

Each of the men is on the train with their own agenda, but through a series of mishaps and setbacks, their fates become intertwined. 

Why did I want to read this book? 

First, we watched the film version of the book, and enjoyed it, so both my husband and I were interested in reading the book. Plus, I like stories set on a train, and this one takes place almost entirely on the Bullet train that travels from Tokyo to Morioka. On top of that, the book fits the Japanese Literature Challenge that I am participating in. 

My Thoughts:

I liked this book a lot. It is 415 pages of fast action, more a thriller than a mystery. The novel is broken up into short chapters, each focusing on a particular character and the story hops from character to character. It takes a while to figure out what is going on. At times it was hard to follow the various characters and the timeline. Early on I noticed that one chapter would tell of an event from a particular character's point of view, then a later chapter would describe another character's experience of the same event. In some cases the chapter might start with "now we will rewind to" an earlier point. The point of view would jump from Lemon to Nanao to Kimura to Tangerine  and then to the Prince, etc.  

There are some really creepy characters in this book; for instance, the Prince, who is the youngest of the bunch but also the most ruthless. But for the most part, these characters are likable and just trying to keep themselves out of trouble. So, if you can forget their backgrounds, this is a fun book to read.

The novel is written in present tense, and that worked fine for me in this case. I used to avoid books with that style of writing, but now it is getting where I hardly notice it (sometimes).

The film:

I enjoyed the film and want to watch it again now. Brad Pitt is the star, playing Ladybug. The plot of the adaptation and the book are not identical and there are definite differences in the motivation and portrayal of various characters. The characters in the book have much more depth that in the film, which is usually the advantage of book over film for me. The film and the book go in different directions, but I liked the ending for both.


Publisher:   Overlook Press, 2022 (orig. publ. 2010)
Length:       415 pages
Format:      Trade Paper
Translator:  Sam Malissa
Setting:      Japan
Genre:       Thriller
Source:      Purchased in January 2023.


CLM said...

This is a great review, Tracy, because it answered all my questions as I read along! When I got to the "Prince is a psychopath," I thought, "Why did Tracy want to read this book?" so was delighted that you explained why!

It does sound quite interesting and one could argue it takes great skill to make the reader care about such ruthless characters. In fact, I am not sure one even needs to argue. I often think I need a likable character to enjoy a book, although there are exceptions.

Have you read some of the books Hitchcock based his movies on? The one I am thinking of is Marnie which has some striking differences from the book but I recall both are good.

I have misplaced the book I wanted to finish reading and review this weekend, which annoys me. Instead, last night, I started reading a book set in Lapland of all places!

Margot Kinberg said...

It does sound high-octane, Tracy. The characters sound well-developed, even if they aren't sympathetic, and I do like the setting. Bullet trains just lend themselves to the buildup of tension and suspense. I strongly dislike the use of the present tense, and I truly wish authors would stop using it. However, of course, that's the author's decision to make, and a lot of people disagree with me. I'm glad that didn't get in the way of the story for you.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I like slow-octane a lot more.

TracyK said...

Constance, I did ask myself as I read this book, why do I want to read a book about a bunch of criminals? Well, in this case there is at least one innocent victim but still. I did have the film in my head while I was reading it and some of the characters in the film were more appealing (but also more violent). But in any case, I do enjoy some books with fast-paced action and questionable morals, and this one worked for me. Some espionage is like that too.

I have not read Marnie; that would be interesting. I like Marnie more than The Birds. Hitchcock's last movie, Family Plot, was based on one of my favorite books by Victor Canning, The Rainbird Pattern. The book is a thriller with some espionage elements, the film was changed into a dark comedy.

Sorry about your misplaced book. The only time I remember doing that I wasn't enjoying the book, so I did not ever finish it.

TracyK said...

Margot, I like "high-octane" as a description of this story. The only thing I could think of was frenetic, and that sounds more negative to me. I don't particularly care for present tense either, but it took me a while to even notice, so it wasn't so bad here.

TracyK said...

Patti, in general I like low or slow-octane more than the opposite. Recently a read a very good spy fiction novel -- The Cover Wife by Dan Fesperman -- that was described by many as a slow burner. A couple of my other favorite spy fiction authors, Charles McCarry and Anthony Price, also write slow paced novels. But some other spy fiction are more thrillerish, and those are not my favorites but still readable. I like Chris Pavone's books and they hop from short chapter to short chapter and character to character.

Cath said...

My first thought was 'Not for me' as I'm not madly interested in Japan or thrillers in general. But you make it sound so interesting I will say instead, 'Maybe not for me, but I'm not counting it out'. I may not want to read particular books 'but' I do enjoy reading about them in a good review.

TracyK said...

Cath, I think this book would not be a good choice for a lot of people. There are definitely other books from Japan that show more about the culture.

This is the kind of book that succeeds or fails based on the ending, and I knew that going into it, because of seeing the film. So even though I questioned myself about why I was reading it along the way, I stuck it out, and I did like the ending a lot.