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Bullet Train  By  cover art

Bullet Train

By: Kotaro Isaka,Sam Malissa - translator
Narrated by: Pun Bandhu
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Publisher's Summary

A dark, satirical thriller by the best-selling Japanese author, following the perilous train ride of five highly motivated assassins - soon to be a major film from Sony

Nanao, nicknamed Ladybug - the self-proclaimed “unluckiest assassin in the world” - boards a bullet train from Tokyo to Morioka with one simple task: Grab a suitcase and get off at the next stop. Unbeknownst to him, the deadly duo Tangerine and Lemon are also after the very same suitcase - and they are not the only dangerous passengers onboard. Satoshi, “the Prince”, with the looks of an innocent schoolboy and the mind of a viciously cunning psychopath, is also in the mix and has history with some of the others. Risk fuels him as does a good philosophical debate - like, is killing really wrong? Chasing the Prince is another assassin with a score to settle for the time the Prince casually pushed a young boy off of a roof, leaving him comatose. When the five assassins discover they are all on the same train, they realize their missions are not as unrelated as they first appear. 

A massive best seller in Japan, Bullet Train is an original and propulsive thriller that fizzes with an incredible energy and surprising humor as its complex net of double-crosses and twists unwind. Award-winning author Kotaro Isaka takes listeners on a tension-packed journey as the bullet train hurtles toward its final destination. Who will make it off the train alive - and what awaits them at the last stop?

©2021 Kotaro Isaka/CTB Inc. English translation rights arranged through CTB Inc. Translation from the Japanese language by Sam Malissa. Published in 2021 by the Overlook Press, an imprint of ABRAMS, New York. All rights reserved. (P)2021 Blackstone Publishing

Featured Article: Worldwide Thrills—The Best International Thriller Audiobooks


Thriller audiobooks are a great escape. They can whisk you around the world and beyond without ever having to leave your home. They can take you to places near and far without having to pack a suitcase. (Oh, and if you are taking a trip, you can bring a book with you—that's two trips in one!) From Havana to Nigeria to Tokyo, these suspense-packed listens will take you on a heart-pounding, journey from the first shocking twist to the final gasp.

What listeners say about Bullet Train

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

The bleh outweighs the meh.

This book should have been about half the length. If the film adaptation is good, watch it again. Skip this. The characters are either insufferable, moronic, or completely unlikable. It is absolutely maddening how the author drags out scenes and passages. The story bounces between a collection of gangster-types that are only distinguishable by unrealistic quirks (one is obsessed with Thomas the Train). There's very little satisfaction to be had here. The "bad guy" doesn't really get a comeuppance. There's not really a hero or central protagonist. I accept the stylistic choices but it does not make for a cohesive or enjoyable narrative.

This title came to my attention when I saw casting information for the upcoming based-on film. There are action sequences that seem deliberately catered to be adapted. That's fine. It's just everything in between that is lacking.

17 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Too unrelateable

Very strange characters behaving in difficult to believe scenarios. I just couldn't get past the silliness

7 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Reels you in and you can't stop listening

Bullet Train is a masterfully crafted thriller that builds to a satisfying conclusion. It begins with the separate stories of several individuals -- most of them involved in some criminal enterprise -- and slowly shows us how their missions and fates are intertwined. Isaka spends enough time on his characters' backgrounds and thoughts to make us care (either like or dislike them), but never allows the action to get bogged down.

By the third hour of listening I was hooked. There were several twists that truly surprised me, and I really liked the way Isaka chose to end the story. Great performance from the narrator, especially when voicing the 14-year-old Prince.

6 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Captivating

I used to live in Japan and rode the Shinkansen from Ueno to Morioka quite regularly, so was intrigued when this book was recommended on NPR. I usually don't like thrillers, but I listened to Bullet Train almost non-stop for 13 1/2 hours. Very dark psychological thriller. Even the unlikeable characters were fascinating and I was totally invested in the outcome. Narrative is very clever with an almost Rashamon telling of interconnected story lines described very differently by multiple characters. Author does well to tie up all the loose ends. Avoids some of the cliches of the genre. The character named "Prince" is straight from Machievelli. There is much food for thought about the psychology of violence, evil, need for power and control, and why good people can do evil things. So many memorable scenes and inner dialogue which won't fit into a feature length film- a series would be better.

4 people found this helpful

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  • SB
  • 08-21-21

So boring

Ugh, this is so boring and pointless. The narration is flat and not engaging. I don't understand the high ratings. I guess this would be better as an action film, where few words are required, because there sure are hours of needless words in this one.

4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Action-packed story!

What a crazy ride! The “Bullet Train” by Kotaro Isaka, a best-selling Japanese writer, is a story that takes place on the shinkansen train which runs between Tokyo and Morioka. It’s only a 2 ½ hour train ride, yet mayhem and murder involving gangsters, hired hit men, and sociopathic children provide a fascinating ride. Oh, and a grown man with a “Tomas the Tank” obsession adds to the insane non-stop action. For those of you who lived through the “Tomas the Tank Engine” children’s TV series, you will fondly recall all the engines (remember Percy?).

I am very unfamiliar with Japanese names, and I wish that I would have done a character chart to keep all the villains straight. Thankfully, Isaka named two of the hired hitmen fruity names: Tangerine and Lemon provide much of the humor, especially Lemon who is our Thomas the Tank lover. They are hired by a renown gangster to rescue his kidnapped son. Nanao, the “Ladybug”, is the worlds unluckiest assassin. Much discussion is about all his bad luck. Kimura, a sad alcoholic with a son, Wataru, who was pushed off a building and now lies in a coma is on the train to find the person who did this to his son. That person happens to be the Prince, who is a 14 year-old sociopath, who asks every adult he sees “Is it wrong to kill people?”

The criminals are noticeable in a fairly empty train. It’s explained why the train is empty later in the story. Everyone is on for differing reasons, yet their duties intersect on the train. Lots of action happens concurrently and overlap. The story keeps moving…at a bullet train pace!

The book is going to be made into a movie, starring Brad Pitt, and I could visually see the action of the story. It’s so over-the-top, almost madcap in mass murder. Isaka doesn’t write messy gory scenes, yet I’m sure the movie will contain gratuitous violence, aka Quentin Tarantino style. It could be more “Jackie Chan” style with lots of action and not gross, turn your head away from the screen, violence. Which ever way it ends up, it will be a good one; I mean, Brad Pitt…how can it be bad?

Special shout-out must be made to the translator, Sam Malissa. Much work went into translating this into the American vernacular which is expertly done.

I listened to the audio, 13 ½ hours long, narrated by Pun Bandu. I highly recommend the audio. Bandu’s voices for all the characters are distinct and brilliantly done.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

First, there was a suitcase...

4.5 Stars. This book moves faster than a high-speed bullet train! It's an exciting page-turner, although I listened to it on Audible. By the way, the book was beautifully narrated and I could see myself sitting down and not wanting to put it down until I finished it if I had been reading the book instead of listening to it.

It's all about a suitcase...and mind games...and criminal activity...and family devotion...and settling matters with violence.

There are almost too many characters carrying too many plotlines but in the end, things get sorted.

The narration is good but be forewarned: the narrator talks really fast!

Not for the squeamish or faint of heart. But definitely for those who love that rare E-ticket ride.

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Fun story, but missed the mark in places

I listed to this in one sitting on a 14 hour road trip.

The narration was pleasant and easy to identify characters. The story was good and involved wonderful characters. However, there are various points in the story where character motivations or decision were not clarified and didn't make sense.

Overall a fun story with memorable characters l.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Ty
  • 09-11-22

From Smokebox to Funnel

I saw the film adaptation, of Bullet train first..
So I was pretty happy to find the audiobook, which tells a somewhat different story.. In a good way.
The book gives more insight to the characters, while telling a really entertaining story, of these shady characters being brought together..
The narrator does a great job, defently worth checking out.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Loved it

much much better than the movie. great to listen to on rides to and from work

1 person found this helpful