by Fuminori Nakamura
Translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates;
Review by Mel Jacob
Soho Crime Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616950217
Date: 20 March 2012 List Price $23.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
More of a literary examination of a man's life as a skilled pickpocket than a thriller or a mystery, Nakamora's The Thief follows the man as he takes people's wallets and possessions. He lives well and dresses like the rich people he robs. When his mentor and friend Ishikawa asks his help with a plan his boss Kizaki wants accomplished, they both get more than they expected.
The thief's life changes when he encounters a young shoplifter and his mother. The boy has talent, but the store detectives soon locks on him so the master thief helps him and warns him off. The boy takes to following him and wants to emulate him, but the thief tries to change the kid's life. The child's mother, a quasi prostitute, wants the thief to help her son.
Money is no problem. When the thief needs it, he picks a few pockets. He is generous to the boy and his mother. He takes the woman up on her offer of sex, but has no affinity for her. The man she lives with insists the boy steal and at times beats him.
Meanwhile, the thief learns Kizaki's planned robbery ended in murder and other politicians resigned or died. Ishikawa has disappeared and the thief fears he is dead. He fears Kizaki will embroil him in more trouble that can only end in death.
An award-winning writer, Nakamura follows the thief as he struggles to survive and to find a way to help the boy. The novel employs symbolism of sorts. His relationships with Ishikawa and the boy are strong. He cares about the child, finds the mother pleasing at times, but never a driving need for him.
Thriller and mystery readers are unlikely to find the novel enthralling or puzzling enough. Nakamura keeps the reader at arms length from the thief. The writing is adequate and the thief may represent those alienated by modern life. The ending is inevitable.