Monday, February 10, 2020

The Thief: Fuminori Nakamura

Brief description from the back of my paperback edition:
The Thief is a seasoned pickpocket. Anonymous in his tailored suit, he weaves in and out of Tokyo crowds, stealing wallets from strangers so smoothly sometimes he doesn’t even remember the snatch. Most people are just a blur to him, nameless faces from whom he chooses his victims. He has no family, no friends, no connections.
But he does have a past, which finally catches up with him when Ishikawa, his first partner, reappears in his life, and offers him a job he can’t refuse.
This is one of those novels that I enjoyed reading but I struggle to define why. The story was fast-paced and the writing pulled me in. The descriptions of how the pickpocket performs his trade and the instinctive planning in advance are fascinating. The story is told in first person by the pickpocket, and although he has a name it is only mentioned once. There were a number of flashbacks, and the brief story that is depicted is very very bleak.

At one point, the thief notices a young boy in a grocery store who is shoplifting for his mother. He tries to get him to stop, then ends up instructing him in ways to do it without being caught. He meets the child's mother, who is a prostitute and addicted to drugs, and reluctantly gets involved with her.

There were definitely points where I was confused. There was one scene that seemed more like a fantasy than reality or maybe like everyone was on drugs.  In this scene, a mob boss threatens the thief with death if he does not carry out a series of thefts for him. The thief's connection to the boy makes him more susceptible to those threats.

There is no resolution at the end. Sometimes I like that, sometimes not. It is like the reader can imagine the ending they want. There is also some musing on how much of life depends on fate, and the presence of a large tower in the background of the thief's descriptions of events, presumably symbolism which I never understood.

Some of the elements I have mentioned sound like criticisms, but they did not mar my enjoyment of the book. For some readers they might. So, even though I found this a very good read, I would be reluctant to recommend it to others. If you are interested in Japanese mysteries, it is definitely worth a try. If you like your mysteries in a more standard format and with a clear resolution, this might not appeal.

The Thief was Fuminori Nakamura's first novel to be translated into English. He had previously written several other novels and won many prizes in Japan. Soho Press has since published six more of his novels with English translations.

Check out reviews at: The Crime Segments and Bibliofreak.


Publisher:   Soho Crime, 2012 (orig. pub. 2009)
Translated from the Japanese by Satoko Izuma and Stephen Coates 
Length:       211 pages
Format:       Trade Paperback
Setting:       Tokyo, Japan
Genre:        Crime fiction
Source:       Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2018.


Cath said...

Hmmm. Well, as interesting as this does actually sound I don't think it's for me. Mainly I think it's because I'm not too interested in Japan but also it might just be too off the wall for my tastes.

TracyK said...

Cath, I have enjoyed the Japanese mysteries I have read but they usually have a different tone than most of the books I read. I often find that they don't really give me much of a feel for place, although in some cases (not this one) they do show differences in the attitudes and behavior in Japan. And this one is probably not one you would care for.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, I have never read a Japanese mystery and while I quite like the character and description of the anonymous thief, I'm not sure I'd like to read this book.

Margot Kinberg said...

This really does sound like an unusual sort of story, Tracy. Its structure, etc., all seem different to what you often find in crime fiction. Hmm....I have enjoyed the Japanese crime fiction I've read, so I'd probably try this one, just to see what I think. That said, though, my guess is, a reader would have to be in the right mood to get the most from this. Glad you found things to really like about it.

TracyK said...

Prashant, I was surprised at the variety of responses to this book in the reviews I read. I did not know quite how to react to it myself.

TracyK said...

Maybe I was just in the right mood when reading this book, Margot. Sometimes I think that makes a huge difference. It is worth trying, and not too long.

Clothes In Books said...

I was just reading about this book on Col's blog! It sounds very interesting, I would consider it...,

Rick Robinson said...

Definitely not for me.

col2910 said...

Spooky I only just thought about this one last week. I'll have to get to it soon. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

TracyK said...

Moira, I think you would like it, there are even clothing descriptions here and there.

TracyK said...

Rick, I am not surprised, I don't think it is your type of novel.

TracyK said...

Col, it wasn't what I expected but it kept me interested. I liked the pace of the story.