Book Look: The Thief, by Fuminori Nakamura: I have clearly developed a habit of reading Asian crime fiction. The past couple of months it has been Qiu Xiaolong's Shanghai based police procedurals. That got sidetracked when I left the one I was reading on a plane, so this month we move to Japan.
I don't remember how I stumbled on The Thief. My usual M.O. when trolling around the web is to add a book/CD/product to my Amazon Wish List if I want to keep it in mind for the future. That suggests The Thief had popped up as recommended on some site I frequent. Unfortunately, by the time I get to reading them, I can't remember where these books are coming from and now I'm curious to know who recommended it.
The Thief is not a police procedural -- there are no police to be seen. What it is, is straightforward noir. A loner criminal tries to live by a code of honor. Our protagonist is a pickpocket by trade, although he has a minor in general thievery such as shoplifting and has at least one major heist involving guns and violence on his resume. These days he tries to keep to his place. He only picks the pockets of "The Rich" who he identifies by their clothes, mostly. Once in possession of their wallets he takes the cash but drop the wallet and any other contents into a mailbox thus returning the rest to rightful owner while also insulating himself from any potential link to victim. He also feels compelled to bring white-knight assistance to a young boy, whose desperate, degenerate mother is using him to shoplift for her. This later comes back to bite him when a big bad gangster from his past needs him to do one more job.
Boilerplate stuff, really, as far as plot and character go. Fuminori-san does a excellent job with atmosphere, however. The seedy, depressive darkness of Noir is rendered as well as I have ever read. Should you read The Thief. I wouldn't make a point of it. It has good qualities, it is brief, and has moments of cleverness, especially in the resolution of the final test the gangster places on our protagonist. But I doubt you'll find emotional investment, and the hints at deeper issues of fate and control don't seem developed enough to grab your attention. Still, it's a good time passer. It's a good travel book (a book to have with you when you are travelling). I guarantee no harm will come to you from reading it if my description intrigues you.