The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

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The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

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Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: An absorbingly original Japanese thriller taking us into the world of the pickpocket. A fascinating combination of thrill and a demonstration of the tricks of the trade, it's the closest many of us will get to this covert profession this side of legality.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: August 2012
Publisher: Corsair
ISBN: 978-1780339139

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The Thief is content roaming the streets of Tokyo, living on the contents of its wealthier citizens' pockets until, his original partner in crime (literally) introduces him to Kizaki, a local shady big shot. Kizaki wants the Thief's help on a straightforward job. He will just be one of a team tasked with breaking into a rich speculator's home, scaring him a little, taking the contents of his safe and departing. No rough stuff and the financial settlement Kizaki offers will more than compensate the pickpocket for his time.

The burglary goes like clockwork but the following day the pickpocket realises two things. Firstly the job didn't finish when he left and the speculator was murdered and secondly, the speculator was no speculator, but an influential politician. Gradually the realisation dawns that, no matter how precarious his day job was before, the world has become a lot more dangerous now. The Thief has been set up for a reason that can only be bad.

Fuminori Nakamura may not be well known here in the UK but this is the first of his books to be translated into English so give it time. Having won decent enough prizes for two of his previous works (The Gun and The Boy in the Earth) The Thief has trumped them both, winning 2009's Oe Prize, the prestigious pinnacle of Japan's literary recognition and rightly so, especially when it comes to the clever ending, epitomising his life of chance and luck in a single movement, as you'll discover.

The Thief may well be a criminal but the author (and therefore also the translators Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates) have ensured he's the sort of wrongdoer with whom we feel safe. He only steals from the rich, is non-violent and has a soft spot for his inadvertently acquired child apprentice. We're let into his mind and life as the Thief personally narrates his own story and shares his past via memories. He's honest (vocally if not behaviourally), explaining everything, even revealing details of his upbringing and recent tragic relationship. (By the way, there are some fleeting instances of graphic sex, including a short orgy moment. This may not be enough to phase most adults, but perhaps something to be thought about before allowing young readers access.)

The plot is interestingly arranged. To use a non-bookish term, this is a novel of two intertwined halves, each as well written as the other. The first element is what one expects a good thriller, fast-paced sections invoking the peril and paranoia seeping from the criminal underbelly. Once he's completed that one job, the Thief realises that won't be the end of his liaison with the crime boss and that it's harder to walk away from his web than he'd imagined. Complementing this we're treated to an expert's master class in sleight of hand.

The author's research has been as highly detailed as the Thief's demonstrations. Through the printed word and our minds' eyes, we're shown the techniques, deftness and, indeed, the tricks of the trade. This is crime as art. On one hand, it could be argued that Fuminori has effectively produced a pickpocket's manual, but to balance this it also serves as a warning and 'tip-off' to would-be victims. Whichever way you look at it, it's very, very entertaining.

I would like to thank Corsair for providing Bookbag with a copy of this book for review.

If you've enjoyed this and would like to sample some more Japanese fiction, then why not give The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa a go? We also enjoyed Nakamura's Evil and the Mask.

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