Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Thief - Fuminori Nakamura

Translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates

The Thief works his way through the crowds in Tokyo, skillfully picking pockets as he goes. His techniques are described, and we observe him as he mixes with the throng of people in the city and identifies his targets, smoothly taking their wallets or other possessions, with them oblivious to his actions. He sometimes finds a wallet in his pocket that he himself doesn't even recall taking. He seems a very lonely man, with nothing to deter him from this life of crime, no loved ones. As the story progresses, we learn of a job he was involved in, with a gang of others, including his first partner in the art of thieving, Ishikawa. Having taken part in this job, the thief discovers afterwards that the man they robbed was in fact killed afterwards, and the man who organised this job isn't going to leave the thief alone, hence he is on the alert, always trying to be aware of potential danger.

We know little about the thief's life prior to the present time dealt with in the story; we learn he stole even as a child, and there is the symbol of a tower that dominated his recollections back then. He moves stealthily through the city, stealing from the rich, seemingly unscrupulous, but the thief is human after all; he makes a connection with a poor young boy on the streets, and can't help but try and improve his life in some way. This is a weakness, and he then realises his own life does actually mean something to him. When the thief is given three specific tasks to undertake, in the second half of the novel, I felt this really added to the tension and made me read on with interest and some nervousness. 

This is a short novel compared to most other crime novels I read, at only just over 200 pages. The author won the OE, a prize for Japanese literary novels, in 2010 for this book. I felt this was a very good translation, it reads well. It's a fascinating crime novel, dark in tone, and it offers a sharp observation of an artful pickpocket, a portrait of a man detached from most of society, working alone, rich in monetary terms but leading an empty, shallow existence. I was intrigued enough to want to read on and discover the outcome for the thief, and where his growing bond with the young boy would lead. Ideally I would have liked to know more about the thief's origins, his original motivations perhaps. Was there every anything more to his life than what he has now? Reading groups could discuss the style of the writing, compare this novel to other crime writing, and also debate the morality of the characters and their actions.

Published by Corsair on 16th August 2012.

Reviewed for NewBooks magazine.


  1. I enjoy reading your reviews Lins, not just because they're so good but also because you introduce me to novels I wouldn't have heard of otherwise. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for such a kind comment Shaz. I really appreciate your thoughts as a fellow book lover and fab reviewer. This was quite an unusual read, interesting, and fairly short by most standards these days.

  2. I like the sound of this one, thanks for reviewing Lyns


    1. Cheers Lainy, think you would find this one interesting to compare to other crime novels you read and enjoy.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks for commenting Rachel :)


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