I’ve been a big fan of Kotaro Isaka since reading Bullet Train (which was then ‘Hollywoodised’ in the Brad Pitt vehicle (no pun intended)). The movie was entertaining enough, but went for big crashes and explosions with a pretty much completely western cast whereas the book was a more quirky and subtle affair that worked much better for me).
I enjoyed his follow up, Three Assassins, released in 2022- another tale of contract killers in Tokyo., so I was thrilled to get an early copy of his new book The Mantis (available now in Hardback, Kindle and Audiobook).
The protagonist of this new novel, Kabuto, is a father, husband, office worker and assassin. The order of these responsibilities is the core of the novel. Kabuto wants out of the killing business. His doctor, who hands out prescriptions to him, is insistent he does not stop his treatment. Oh, and unless it’s not clear – the doctor is his handler, the prescriptions are jobs, and if Kabuto does stop ‘treatment’, he and his family could be at serious risk…
There are subtle call backs/ easter eggs to the previous novels and key characters – we’re in an Isaka universe here, but don’t worry: if you haven’t read the previous books you won’t miss anything. If you have, you’ll get a smile from some of the references.
There are similar themes explored in the previous books – family duty and honour, disaffection with one’s role in life,
And of course, hit jobs.
As much as I enjoyed Isaka’s previous books (Bullet Train was one of my top ten novels in 2021), The Mantis is, for me, the strongest of Isaka’s works in English so far. It’s a very good translation – as were the other books, unlike some popular Japanese fiction I’ve read over recent years, that captures the Japanese style and essence, while being, I would say, more accessible than Three Assassins. It’s also, stylistically, more adventurous than the previous books. There’s a ‘twist’ 60% through the books that affects everything and everyone in the story, and how we read the book as a whole, that really worked for me. (No spoilers). For western readers there are a couple of key elements that might be considered ‘tropes’ or ‘clichés’. But viewing through a Japanese lens, these are challenging and quite different from anything else I have read. The translation does a good job of taking the literal written word and doing just enough with it to make it fully accessible but without losing the underlying ‘culture’ of the characters.
There’s the same dark humour and deceptively simplistic dialogue mixed in with some philosophical and historical ponderings that I really enjoyed: Kabuto is a likable, if emotionally schizophrenic, character – probably more finely drawn than any of the others I’ve read in Isaka’s books, and by moving away from ensemble killer casts to focus on an individual, this felt like a different enough take on the assassin subgenre to keep me engaged throughout.
Like all of Isaka’s books, I found this a fast, fun read but with great heart and emotion and I look forward to seeing what comes next.
We’re thrilled to be able to offer one lucky winner a signed hardback copy of The Mantis, courtesy of Vintage/ Harvil Secker. To be in with a chance just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘The Mantis’ in the subject line and we’ll pick one lucky winner on Saturday 18th November.