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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Plotters

Kim Un-su

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To purchase The Plotters

Title: The Plotters
Author: Kim Un-su
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 232 pages
Original in: Korean
Availability: The Plotters - US
The Plotters - UK
The Plotters - Canada
Les planificateurs - France
Die Plotter - Deutschland
I cospiratori - Italia
Los planificadores - España
  • Korean title: 설계자들
  • Translated by Sora Kim-Russell

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid little thriller-story, nicely unfolded

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 20/1/2019 Kai Spanke
The Guardian B- 1/3/2019 Jake Arnott
The NY Rev. of Books . 9/6/2022 Nathaniel Rich
The NY Times Book Rev. . 3/2/2019 Charles Finch
The Observer . 29/1/2019 Alison Flood
Publishers Weekly . 29/10/2018 .
Der Spiegel . 14/12/2018 Marcus Müntefering
TLS . 12/4/2019 Rebecca Watson
The Washington Post . 23/1/2019 Dennis Drabelle

  From the Reviews:
  • "In Kims Krimi ist die gesamte Gesellschaft auf die schiefe Bahn geraten. Heimlich agierende Verschwörungsdesigner aus höchsten Kreisen – die sogenannten Plotter – entwickeln neurotisch genau ausgetüftelte Mordpläne, welche von ihren Handlangern umgesetzt werden. Wer schludrig ist oder, wie Raeseng, bewusst vom Plan abweicht, landet auf einer Todesliste." - Kai Spanke, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(T)he novelís quirkiness becomes increasingly forced and, despite the early promise that it might subvert the form, soon resorts to many of its cliches. (...) Plot itself becomes the problem with The Plotters -- thereís plenty of explanation of its mechanics and not enough story in its telling. For all its literary ambition, the strength of this book lies in its visual sense." - Jake Arnott, The Guardian

  • "In The Plotters, however, Kim asks whether futile rebellion is better than nothing.Since futile rebellion is an essential component of noir literature, there’s a closer match here between theme and plot." - Nathaniel Rich, The New York Review of Books

  • "It would be hard to accuse The Plotters, a raucous extravaganza of assassins and lunatics by the lauded Korean writer Un-Su Kim, of conforming to any template. (...) Kim is a good writer, soulful and observant. (...) This intelligence and humor keep Resengís tale afloat on its tiring, convoluted narrative. As in Sin City or A Confederacy of Dunces, plot is pointedly unimportant to The Plotters, mostly a medium for satire and repulsion." - Charles Finch, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Pleasingly deadpan, The Plotters manages to be both humorous (Resengís cats are called, delightfully, Desk and Lampshade) and violent, and sometimes even wise." - Alison Flood, The Observer

  • "Most memorable, though, is the novelís message about the insidiousness of unaccountable institutions, from those under the military junta to those that thrive in todayís economy. The consequence of the pervasive corruption is an air of existential despair. This strange, ambitious book will appeal equally to literary fiction readers." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Dass der Junge, der sich in der Literatur verliert, später zum Killer wird, der dafür sorgt, dass die von den Plottern erdachten Geschichten ein Happy End in ihrem Sinne haben, gehört zu den vielen feinen Volten dieses Romans, der zwar Thriller-Konventionen durchaus bedient, sie aber weit hinter sich lässt." - Marcus Müntefering, Der Spiegel

  • "Sora Kim-Russellís translation of Un-su Kimís novel is delightfully deadpan. (...) The Plotters is a curious, askew thriller, its tone less tense than wry. At times, its slowed pace encourages looseness. Imagery recurs -- fog, cigarette smoke, falling leaves -- and the protagonistís deadened perspective can be unengaging. But more often, Kimís understatement is refreshing." - Rebecca Watson, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The Plotters is no primer for a visit to Korea. What it does offer is a vivid portrait of a mesmerizing central character -- the stoic Reseng. It will also keep readers delightfully off-balance. In The Plotters Kim has mixed bookishness, crackpots and commissioned murder into a rich and unsettling blend." - Dennis Drabelle, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Plotters is set in a contemporary South Korea where there has been a boom in the assassination-industry; what once barely even qualified as a niche business during the three decades of military dictatorship -- "there wasn't even enough action to call it an industry" -- has now become a major one, taking off:

when corporations followed the state's lead in outsourcing to plotters. Corporations generated far more work than the state, and the contractors' primary clientele shifted from public to private.
       Rubbing people out has become big business -- and is professionally handled:
     Murder was quiet and simple in the plotting world. There were no huge explosions like in the movies, and rarely any messy car accidents or hails of bullets. It was as silent as snowfall in the night, as secretive as a cat's footsteps. The killings almost never came to light. Since there was no murder case, there was no crime, no suspicion, no investigation.
       The protagonist of The Plotters is Reseng, thirty-two years old and already in the business fifteen years. He's not a plotter -- in fact he's never met one, this whole time -- but a hit-man, taking his orders via middle-man contractor Old Raccoon, the man who took him in as a young orphan. The plotters remain unseen, behind the scenes, directing the action and making sure no one steps out of line: a hitman's orders are specific, and any deviation from the plan is disapproved of; outright failure to carry out orders, whether intentional or accidental, is unacceptable -- and in this demanding industry even Reseng wonders how he's lasted this long in the business. (He did absent himself from it for a while after he slipped up a bit on a job -- and in fact could have permanently escaped the hitman-life at that point, but he chose to take it up again.)
       Reseng was taken in as a young boy and raised by Old Raccoon, in a huge library Old Raccoon calls 'The Doghouse'. It had been founded in the 1920s, and Old Raccoon had run it for decades; it didn't (and obviously wasn't meant to) have many library-patrons -- despite a collection of two hundred thousand volumes (a number Old Raccoon kept steady, culling old volumes as he added new ones) -- but made for a good cover for the true business conducted from there. Kept out of school by Old Raccoon, young Reseng, having the run of the place, read a great deal -- but he also was trained to become an assassin; he moved out after he started earning some money at this job but still is closely tied to the man who raised him.
       Another, older, protégé of Old Raccoon is Hanja, who has now set himself up in business for himself, the Stanford MBA-trained representative of the new generation taking a more modern approach to killing-for-hire, in everything from his offices to how he runs his business:
Hanja was building his modern network of businessmen and officials, recruiting experts from every field, and employing high-quality plotters. He transformed the once-messy, free-for-all plotting world into a clean, convenient supermarket.
       Still, at its heart, the killing-business remains the same -- and under the firm control of the shadowy old guard of plotters (not that they're all all that old ...).
       The novel unfolds nicely, beginning with Reseng on the job -- though the kill in this case doesn't go exactly as planned -- and introducing readers also to the body-disposal man and method, Bear, the pet-crematorium owner with the remunerative sideline-use of his facilities.
       Kim structures the novel well in chapters that aren't entirely episodic, the action unfolding chronologically in the present day but pieces of the past also filled in in longer stretches along the way. Eventually, the action comes more to a head: elections are due, the powers that be have needs that must be met, and the power struggles in the (killer-)industry come increasingly to the fore. Reseng must decide where his professional allegiances should lie -- even as he increasingly tends towards the independent, lone-wolf approach that's a poor fit in a very regimented business.
       It's well into the novel that a new character is introduced -- though her presence already makes itself felt considerably earlier, as Reseng realizes someone has been in his apartment and (eventually) finds a small explosive device that had been planted in his toilet. Colleague Jongeon, a tracker, pieces together who might be responsible for it and leads Reseng to her -- with Reseng disconcerted to find out that he's not only been on her radar, but that she knows practically everything about him; so much for covering his tracks .....
       Eventually, The Plotters becomes more cinematic than novelistic, with a variety of showdowns and Reseng pursuing both his own and other agendas (leading to more showdowns); it's quite well done and reasonably exciting, but also somewhat by the book (i.e. the traditional thriller formulae).
       The Plotters is a solid hit-man thriller, the context -- contemporary South Korea, with its explosive capitalism after decades of authoritarian rule -- and some of Kim's creative details and turns of his story make for a neat variation on the usual take. Sufficiently character-focused, Reseng is perhaps ultimately too single-minded -- indeed, Kim saturates his story with what eventually becomes a too-fatalistic feel -- but it's engaging reading to the bitter end.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 December 2018

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The Plotters: Reviews: Other books Kim Un-su under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       South Korean author Kim Un-su (김언수) was born in 1972.

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© 2018-2022 the complete review

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