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Reviews for The Prototype

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Blue Ink Book Review


With shades of Michael Crichton’s technological terrors, brutal hand-to-hand combat, and vivid racing sequences, award-winning automotive journalist Sam Mitani’s The Prototype delivers high-speed thrills. Mitani’s protagonist is 25-year-old automotive journalist Stockton Clay, a half-Asian writer and low-level staffer at Automobile Digest magazine. He’s also an avid gamer and an orphan with few clues to his lineage.

His editor is intrigued when mysterious industrialist Tetsuro Kanda invites Clay to fly to Japan and test drive the company’s new sports car. Things go awry when a rival journalist changes cars with Clay at the last moment, saving him from a fiery death in a suspicious crash. This follows an earlier incident where a stranger pointed a gun at him on the highway, and a cryptic warning note in his hotel room. Clay knows he’s in real trouble, but hasn’t a clue why.

Later returning to Japan on the pretext of covering an auto show, Clay connects with Kamita Motors’ shadowy public relations manager. He also gains allies in a covert team of CIA operatives investigating Kanda and is diagnosed with a potentially fatal genetic disorder. Clay’s quest becomes a race against time to defeat adversaries seeking to weaponize Kanda’s scientific discoveries, uncover Kanda’s true purpose, and save himself.

This is an entertaining first novel that marries Mitani’s unique perspective on racing to his enthusiasm for judo and an animated literary voice. Some of the twists stretch credibility—e.g. the secret connection between Clay and the book’s villain—and there always seems to be a private jet or a pseudo-scientific resolution around the corner. But in the wake of a kinetic thriller with a charismatic protagonist behind the wheel, readers will forgive such lapses.

Combining the balletic combat of John Wick and the jet-propelled exploits of the Fast and the Furious franchise, Mitani succeeds in absorbing readers into a shadowy, futuristic Tokyo where nothing is as it seems.

Clarion Book Review

This zany book plays with science fiction and thriller tropes, resulting in a tale that is oversized, fun, and fast.

Sam Mitani’s exciting thriller The Prototype includes science fiction elements as it takes on the cloak-and-dagger world of the Japanese auto industry. Stockton Clay wants to be a great writer, but he is stuck in his low-level gig writing for an automobile magazine. Clay, a car nerd with a recurring nosebleed, thirsts for more. His big break comes when he is mysteriously selected to attend the Kamita Motors debut of a new prototype race car. Clay thinks his prayers have been answered, but the car show is just the beginning of the surprises headed his way.

Clay soon learns that his invitation came from the hermit-like head of Kamita Motors himself, Tetsuro Kanda. Kanda also happens to be the only one who can help him with his nosebleeds, which foretell a rare, life-threatening genetic condition. Clay’s world explodes, with CIA agents, guns, nanotechnology, and human clones bent on his demise. It isn’t long before Clay is leaping away from enemies and blasting spies. The book’s writing is journalistic in feel, with lots of overly specific details, down to the brands of clothes that characters wear. Cliffhanger chapter endings keep the book moving forward. Occasional clichés in exposition and dialogue detract from the text.

While interesting, the story is predictable, beyond one major twist. The mystery of why Kanda wants to meet Clay is quickly resolved, as are questions of his mysterious origins related to being adopted by American parents. Over the course of the novel, Clay evolves from a nerd to the guy who gets the girl. Clay’s occasional incredulousness about all the craziness that happens around him feels genuine.

The book has a certain noir charm, with its over-the-top action, cloned Russian gangsters, and Clay’s spy skills (derived from playing video games). It reads like a retro-style video game, complete with laughable evil minion dialogue in which the good guys must “pay with pain,” a phrase best read with a Russian accent. The book’s action comes with a wink and a nudge. The best elements of the book peel back the world of Japanese automakers, giving a glimpse of Tokyo and what it feels like to drive fantastic cars, all while living a fantasy-filled life. The book’s violence is not graphic and neither is its sexuality. It satirizes gaming life and thrillers in general in a way that is genuine and enjoyable, cleverly mixing classic thriller techniques with science fiction elements from cloning to nanotechnology. Prototype is a satirical thriller that gets its kicks from its speed and its willingness to explore the boundaries of what defines humanity.

Reader's Favorite


The Prototype by Sam Mitani is a cleverly plotted crime novel with sophisticated characters and a plot that takes readers to places they never could have imagined. I never expect a good story to feature a plot where one thing leads logically to another. No one wants predictable plots and the author of this novel understands that and crafts a story filled with imagination, where one thing leads readers to surprises they never saw coming.

The story revolves around an ambitious young automotive journalist, Stockton Clay, who accepts an invitation with the high hopes of getting the big break in his career. When his friend is killed in a questionable accident, he is told by CIA agents that he was the target. Now with a deadly disease that can only be cured with the blood of a family member, young Clay sets out to search for his biological father. But what awaits him in Japan is an event with devastating effects globally. Will he become a victim along with millions of people, or is he the key to stopping a mad Russian scientist from controlling world power?

The Prototype is brilliantly plotted and the author makes the protagonist into a very complex character. He is half-Asian, half-Caucasian and adopted, and this is part of the puzzle, because when he discovers that he has a rare illness, he sets out to find his real father. We encounter a character that is facing death and racing against time to find a cure. The reader is convinced to read on to find out if Clay will find his real father and what happens when he does. Sam Mitani’s writing is strong and the author exhibits a gift for plot; the pacing is fast, and the plot structure is brilliantly imagined and executed with unusual skill.

PBS (WFYI Indianapolis)

"The Prototype" by Sam Mitani, a longtime writer for Road & Track magazine, begins as an insight to the world of pampered automotive journalists and quickly evolves into an international action thriller. 

The opening scene, dominated by a chase between the star journalist and unknown pursers, sets the pace that’s only briefly interrupted by inflections of Mitani’s in-depth knowledge of automobiles and the industry that produces them. While loosely based on reality, nothing is what it seems.

The main character is surprised to find he is being invited to an exclusive event in France set to host the unveiling of an advanced prototype supercar and announcement the fictitious automaker, loosely based on Toyota/Honda, plans to enter Formula 1 racing. 

After a long international flight, the journalist is whisked off to a five-star hotel in a private helicopter, whereby he is taken to his bungalow. The day after a glitzy unveiling, a select few journalists are invited to a track to drive the prototype.  Intrigue sets in as the car mysteriously accelerates before wrecking and killing one of the writers.

Events really kick into high gear when the journalist discovers his real father as a kidnapping impacts his immediate survival.  Global intrigue and international terrorism continually build excitement to the very end.

I’m not usually one for fictional thrillers, but "The Prototype" is an engaging read for automotive enthusiasts who want a peek into the real world of flashy unveilings, auto executive interviews, and the characters that always seem to filter in an out of the industry with a side of fantastic speed and engaging storytelling that could only come from an insider. Mitani nailed it on his first try.

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