#BookReview: Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka translated by Sam Malissa @vintagebooks #BulletTrain #damppebbles

Five killers. One train journey. But who will survive? The original and propulsive thriller from a massive Japanese bestseller.

Satoshi looks like an innocent schoolboy but he is really a viciously cunning psychopath. Kimura’s young son is in a coma thanks to him, and Kimura has tracked him onto the bullet train heading from Tokyo to Morioka to exact his revenge. But Kimura soon discovers that they are not the only dangerous passengers onboard.

Nanao, the self-proclaimed ‘unluckiest assassin in the world’, and the deadly partnership of Tangerine and Lemon are also travelling to Morioka. A suitcase full of money leads others to show their hands. Why are they all on the same train, and who will get off alive at the last station?”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka (translated by Sam Malissa). Bullet Train is published in paperback format today (that’s Thursday 17th March 2022) and is also available in hardcover, audio and digital formats. I chose to read and review a free eARC of Bullet Train but that has in no way influenced my review.

First of all I have to say that I adore Japanese crime fiction and this book came onto my radar last year when it was first published but I was so over subscribed that I couldn’t squeeze it in. I was gutted as it sounded just my cup of kombucha. At the start of 2022 I signed up to the ‘12 books in 12 months’ challenge where 12 friends recommend a book to be read by the end of the year – Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka was suggested by the fabulous Raven Crime Reads. So of course, it went on the list. You can see the other eleven books that were recommended if you scroll down to the end of this post. I couldn’t wait to get to this one and what a ride it was!

Boarding a train has never been so deadly! When the bullet train leaves Tokyo heading for Morioka little do the passengers know that in their midst are five highly skilled killers. Satoshi is a schoolboy, all sweetness and light to his superiors but really a psychopath in a school uniform. His use of control and coercion and his complete lack of remorse make him a deadly adversary. Kimura is on a mission to track Satoshi down and make him pay for what he did to his young son, no matter what the cost. But they are not the only two killers on board this high-speed train. As the train hurtles towards Morioka the clock ticks down. Time is running out for these trained assassins as not everyone will make it to Morioka alive…

Oh my goodness, Bullet Train was so much fun! What an immersive, high-speed thrill ride the author has created for his readers, featuring five thoroughly engaging characters. All of them, apart from Satoshi, are likeable – although you know you shouldn’t warm to them really. They are trained killers after all! There is much comic relief provided by the brilliant Tangerine and Lemon. Lemon’s obsession with trains, in particular Thomas and Friends, had me giggling to myself at frequent intervals. Bullet Train felt vey different to all of the other ‘locked room’ mysteries I’ve read in the past (even the Japanese ones!) and I really appreciated it.

The plot moves along swiftly, very much like the bullet train itself, with lots of interesting plot points and changes of direction. I wanted to steam through this novel to find out who survived but instead I took my time to enjoy and savour the interactions, the building tension and twists and turns. There is very little let up. There is always something happening and it’s always attention grabbing.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Bullet Train is a unique and clever thriller which is perhaps a little bonkers at times, a little hard to believe maybe, but I didn’t care one jot. I was entertained from start to finish and I know I will never read another book like this again. It’s definitely quirky in the best way possible. I want to say to all crime fiction fans, you must read this book but I’m aware that it probably won’t be for everyone. If you’re a fan of translated fiction however, make sure you get yourself a copy and make sure you read it before the movie is released this summer. I, for one, will be first in the queue with my popcorn and slushie as I CANNOT WAIT to relive the Bullet Train experience once more. I thoroughly enjoyed Bullet Train and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author soon. Recommended.

I chose to read and review a free eARC of Bullet Train. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka translated by Sam Malissa was published in the UK on 17th March 2022 and is available in hardcover, paperback, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.ukWaterstonesFoylesBook Depositorybookshop.orgGoodreadsdamppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Kōtarō IsakaKōtarō Isaka (伊坂幸太郎, Isaka Koutarou) is a Japanese author of mystery fiction.

Isaka was born in Matsudo City, Chiba Prefecture, Japan. After graduating from the law faculty of Tohoku University, he worked as a system engineer. Isaka quit his company job and focused on writing after hearing Kazuyoshi Saito’s 1997 song “Kōfuku na Chōshoku Taikutsu na Yūshoku”, and the two have collaborated several times. In 2000, Isaka won the Shincho Mystery Club Prize for his debut novel Ōdyubon no Inori, after which he became a full-time writer.

In 2002, Isaka’s novel Lush Life gained much critical acclaim, but it was his Naoki Prize-nominated work Jūryoku Piero (2003) that brought him popular success. His following work Ahiru to Kamo no Koin Rokkā won the 25th Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers.
Jūryoku Piero (2003), Children (2004), Grasshopper (2004), Shinigami no Seido (2005) and Sabaku (2006) were all nominated for the Naoki Prize.
Isaka was the only author in Japan to be nominated for the Hon’ya Taishō in each of the award’s first four years, finally winning in 2008 with Golden Slumber. The same work also won the 21st Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize.

Image of Sam MalissaSam Malissa holds a PhD in Japanese Literature from Yale University. He has translated fiction by Toshiki Okada, Shun Medoruma, and Hideo Furukawa, among others.


#BookReview | #Giveaway: If I Die Before I Wake by @EmilyKoch | @HarvillSecker @vintagebooks

if I die before i wake.jpg“HOW DO YOU SOLVE YOUR OWN MURDER?

Everyone believes Alex is in a coma, unlikely to ever wake up. As his family debate withdrawing life support, and his friends talk about how his girlfriend Bea needs to move on, he can only listen.

But Alex soon begins to suspect that the accident that put him here wasn’t really an accident. Even worse, the perpetrator is still out there and Alex is not the only one in danger. 

As he goes over a series of clues from his past, Alex must use his remaining senses to solve the mystery of who tried to kill him, and try to protect those he loves, before they decide to let him go.

A stunning edge-of-your-seat debut novel with an unforgettable narrator.”

I finished reading If I Die Before I Wake a few days ago and I’m still bereft, still heartbroken.  This haunting debut thriller will stay with me for some time, but do you know what? I nearly gave up on it! I’m not really one for discarding books part way through.  Actually, I can probably count the number of books I have ‘DNF’d’ on one hand.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I am a) a crime fiction fan, b) I like character driven fiction and c) I like excitement and action, thrills and spills.  When I started reading If I Die Before I Wake I suddenly started to question how the author was going to keep the story going for 320 pages.  Alex, our main character, is in a coma and has been for a significant amount of time (18 months-ish).  He has spells of being alert, able to see a little, able to smell, able to hear, able to taste the rubber of a gloved hand sponging out his mouth and able to feel.  But he can’t move, can’t communicate.  I didn’t instantly warm to Alex, or his girlfriend, Bea.  As you would expect, the first few chapters of this book paint Alex’s rather dire situation for the reader.  Alex is in a coma.  His girlfriend visits, his family visits, his best mate visits.  I was questioning whether it was worth continuing with Alex’s tale.  He’d been in a coma for so long I couldn’t see him waking up anytime soon.  What was going to happen?  WELL!  Let me tell you something.  I persevered and oh my gosh, I am so glad I did.

You see, I fell a little bit in love with Alex.  Koch has created some astonishingly good characters in If I Die Before I Wake.  I’m not an emotional reader normally. I want blood, guts and gore, shedloads of action and a killer hook (not much to ask for, is it?).  Since I started damppebbles I have cried twice whilst reading.  It was twice, make that three times now.  And I’m not ashamed to admit it was ugly crying.  Snotty, sobby, traumatised, hiccuppy, heartbroken crying.  Wow!  Just WOW!!  And to think I nearly put this book down.  By the time I turned the last page there was so much I loved about this novel.  It wasn’t just Alex I had fallen in love with.  His poor dad made my heart melt, and despite being a bit of a nightmare, I also warmed to his sister, Philippa.

I’m excited to see what author Emily Koch gives us readers next.  If this is the quality of her writing then us bookish types are in for a real treat!

Would I recommend this book?  Absolutely! Yes, it’s a thrilling read which is incredibly clever as the main character never leaves his hospital bed (!) but it’s also a highly emotional tale which broke my heart.  The author has excelled at making her reader feel the frustration Alex suffers on a daily basis.  Absolutely flipping brilliant and a contender for my ‘books of 2018’ list!

Five out of five stars.

I chose to read and review an ARC of If I Die Before I Wake.  The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

I was very lucky to receive two copies of If I Die Before I Wake from the publisher.  Rather than have the spare sat on my bookshelf unread and unloved let’s have a giveaway!  To be in with a chance to win one hardback copy of If I Die Before I Wake all you have to do is retweet the pinned tweet on my twitter profile and tag a friend you think would like to read this book.  Retweet and tag, it’s that easy.  UK/IRE only I’m afraid as it’s a hardback copy and will cost too much to send overseas.  Giveaway closes on Saturday 20th January 2018 at midday (GMT).  The winner will need to provide me with their address and there is no cash or eBook alternative.  Good luck!

If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch was published in the UK by Harvill Secker on 11th January 2018 and is available in hardcover, eBook and audio formats (the following Amazon links are affiliate links) | amazon.co.uk | amazon.comWaterstones | Goodreads |

about the author3

Emily Koch - pic by Barbara Evripidou

I am an author and journalist living in Bristol, UK, and am represented by Peter Straus at Rogers, Coleridge and White. My debut novel If I Die Before I Wake is out now, published by Harvill Secker, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Working with writer Alison Powell I am also a founding member of WriteClub – which runs regular creative writing events in Bristol. Check us out – whether you’re a published author or the last thing you wrote was a shopping list.

Email me at mail@emilykoch.co.uk with any queries.

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Author image and bio © https://emilykoch.co.uk/