Book Reviews: Three Assassins and Devil House
There are a million different ways to entice the reader to turn the pages as they go through your book. This week we have two terrific novels that both appeal to their readership, but in very different ways.
The first is Three Assassins by Kotaro Isaka, translated from Japanese by Sam Malissa. Very well known in his country of origin, Isaka saw his notoriety taken to the next level by the big budget adaptation of his novel High-speed train, with Brad Pitt. Whereas High-speed train and Three Assassins occupy a superficially similar world of killers and double-crossing, the slapstick action of the former is here replaced by something more contemplative and existential.
There are actually a lot more than three assassins in Three Assassins. The emotional center of the story is Suzuki, until recently an ordinary math teacher. However, his wife’s murder caused him to leave his respectable life and try to infiltrate the organization he believes to be responsible, working undercover. He is about to kill the man he thinks murdered his wife, when the man is pushed in front of a car by another mysterious assassin, The Pusher. Two other paid killers are also involved in this underworld – The Whale, who persuades his victims to kill themselves and save their loved ones, and The Cicada, a loud and overly talkative expert with knives, who takes the jobs others do. assassins will not touch. .
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It’s a tangle of murder and mayhem, with various central characters hired to kill others, trick and double-cross at every turn, and it’s all expertly orchestrated by the author. But there is something deeper going on here too. Suzuki is very damaged and torn with doubt. The whale is homeless and constantly haunted by the ghosts of those he saw die. And La Cigale dreams of killing his boss.
Isaka delivers his plot at a breakneck pace, and he juggles his central narrators brilliantly. But it also has time to delve into the inequalities inherent in Japanese society and the wider power imbalances in the world. Ultimately, these assassins are just pawns in the game, still alive as long as they’re useful to those in charge. Both challenging and exciting.
then, we have Devil’s House, the third novel by John Darnielle, singer-songwriter of the famous American indie band Mountain Goats. In Darnielle’s fiction, he expertly examines the most shocking corners of American popular culture, and here he tackles the genre of true-crime reporting.