It's a rare author who can make killers come across as empathetic and wise, but Kotaro Isaka (Three Assassins) has done just that with the superb and intricately plotted thriller The Mantis, translated from the Japanese by Sam Malissa. It's the third of Isaka's loosely connected novels about the crime shadow world in Tokyo that started with Bullet Train.
Kabuto (an alias) has been an assassin for decades. Despite being one of the best in the trade, he now has a wife and son--who know nothing about his side hustle--and wants out of the business. But his handler, called the doctor (his real profession), won't let Kabuto off easily. The doctor orders the assassin to take on high-risk assignments before he can retire, which makes Kabuto wonder if the only way he can quit is by dying.
Though Kabuto does commit violence, it isn't graphic and the novel is quite humorous. Kabuto doesn't break a sweat while facing down deadly opponents, but at home he's terrified of his strong-willed wife and tiptoes around her, literally and emotionally. Nevertheless, Kabuto loves her and believes his family is more than he deserves. He teaches his son that, because what's right or wrong may not always be obvious, one should strive to be fair: Kabuto always allows his targets a fight. And because life is hard, it's enough to simply "[h]ang in there and do your best." About halfway through the novel, the author introduces a bold twist that might make readers wonder, "What the...?"--but it leads to a satisfying and moving end. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, reviewer and freelance editor at The Edit Ninja