Friday, December 23, 2011

The Thief

The Thief (scheduled for a March 2012 release) is Japanese author Fuminori Nakamura’s first novel to be published in English.  Judging from the quality of The Thief, I believe it is safe to say that it will not be his last.  The young author, already a winner of multiple literary prizes in his native Japan, seems destined soon for wider recognition of his talents.

“The Thief” in this story is such an accomplished pickpocket that he sometimes goes on automatic pilot, even to the point that he cannot remember the source of the wallet full of money he later discovers in his own pocket.  He was trained by one of the best in the business, an older man named Ishikawa, and the skills he learned provide him with a good living.     

Now, Ishikawa reappears and offers our Thief the chance at some easy money to be earned as part of a gang contracted to perform a “sure thing” breaking and entering job.  All the gang has to do is break into a man’s home, tie him up, and steal everything in his safe – everything.  But, of course, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.  When the surprisingly prominent target ends up dead, all the Thief really understands about the crime is that he will be lucky to survive his participation in it.  

Fuminori Nakamura’s Thief is a complicated man, one not at all bothered by how he makes his living but, especially when it comes to children, still a softie at heart.  Because it is so easy for him to acquire cash, the Thief even allows himself a touch of Robin Hoodish behavior on occasion - as in when he gives away a whole day’s take on the streets to stop a young boy’s mother from forcing him repeatedly to shoplift the food and supplies she wants. 

The Thief exposes a bit of Japan’s underbelly that will surprise many readers, but that is one of the benefits of reading translated crime fiction.  The genre, even one like The Thief that is long on noir, reveals much about a country’s personality and culture that otherwise remains hidden from the casual observer.  This is a worthy addition to any crime fiction lover’s bookshelves.  Enjoy. 

Rated at: 4.0

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