Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s a strange thing.  Kotaro Isaka’s 2004 novel Three Assassins, newly released in an English translation, is actually better than his later work in the same world, his 2011 novel Bullet Train, released in English last year and reviewed here at borg.  It’s difficult to tell whether translator Sam Malissa simply did a better job this time, or if Isaka’s writing was better earlier in his career.  At about half the page count as Bullet Train, this prequel of sorts is certainly a better edited piece of fiction.  It has little in common with his other novel, and its brand of storytelling emulates Quentin Tarantino’s 1990s brand of pulp novel nostalgia.  Unfortunately Three Assassins seems past its time.  Sympathetic to the lives of “philosopher killers” for hire, its melancholy questions about the meaning of life seem dated and out of place today.  Although it amps up the intrigue in its final chapters, this feels pretty thin as action thrillers go.

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