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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Thief

Nakamura Fuminori

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To purchase The Thief

Title: The Thief
Author: Nakamura Fuminori
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 211 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Thief - US
The Thief - UK
The Thief - Canada
The Thief - India
Pickpocket - France
Der Dieb - Deutschland
Tokyo noir - Italia
El ladrón - España
  • Japanese title: 掏摸
  • Translated by Satako Izumo and Stephen Coates

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Our Assessment:

A- : simple, well-done fatalistic crime novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 31/8/2012 Christopher Fowler
The Guardian A 17/8/2012 Laura Wilson
Publishers Weekly . 9/1/2012 .
Wall Street Journal . 17/3/2012 Tom Nolan
The Washington Post . 2/3/2012 Maureen Corrigan

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)t’s a pleasure to find grand themes folded into a slim volume of crisp, elegant and ultimately moving prose." - Christopher Fowler, Financial Times

  • "This isn't for those who prefer the conventional crime novel. It is, however, an intelligent, compelling and surprisingly moving tale, and highly recommended." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "Nakamura’s memorable antihero, at once as believably efficient as Donald Westlake’s Parker and as disaffected as a Camus protagonist, will impress genre and literary readers alike." - Publishers Weekly

  • "The Thief concludes with an either-or ending that robs readers of a clear-cut resolution -- without making them feel in any way cheated." - Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal

  • "Though elegant, The Thief is less a crime novel than a meditation on crime. Plot, that guiltiest of literary pleasures, is in short supply here. Instead, there’s a lot of reflection on the meta-meaning of theft and of a shadow life lived outside convention." - Maureen Corrigan, 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 Thief of the title, who is also the narrator, is actually just a pickpocket -- but a very good one. He knows how to fade into the background, to avoid being noticed, and that extends beyond just his professional life: with few ties of any sort, he is little more than a shadow. Years earlier he was hired for a big job of a very different sort because of that -- though, as the man who hired him explained, that brought with it a downside as well:

I needed some loners, people with no attachments. Of course, since they had no attachments they could have run away from me. They had that freedom.
       The narrator thinks he has always had that freedom: working on his own or with similarly-minded colleagues he always felt fairly free. But he found out that it wasn't quite so simple when he was hired for that big job years earlier, when Kizaki, who ran the operation, casually brought up his name -- Nishimura -- which he had never even revealed to those closest to him (and the ones who had brought him in on the job). That big job turned out to be bigger and more complicated than expected; what was billed as a simple robbery turns out to have been part of a much bigger and politically motivated crime. Nishimura was a small cog in that big plan; he did his job, and he got a whole lot of money for it, but he knows that he paid a high price for it -- and that others who were in on it as well paid a much higher one. Then he ran, and hid.
       Now he's returned to Tokyo, soloing in the streets and subways, as nimble-fingered as always. One day he happens to see a mother and her young son trying to shoplift, and he tries to help them out. The boy latches onto Nishimura, and while trying to keep him at a distance Nishimura still does become a bit of a mentor to him. But any ties make him vulnerable too, and soon his past comes back to haunt him, as Kizaki resurfaces and forces him to do his bidding -- three jobs suited to his specific talents.
       Nishimura is once again a cog in someone else's machine, but with others' lives dependent on his success.
       It all boils down to what Kizaki eventually asks him:
Do you believe in fate ? Was your fate controlled by me, or was being controlled by me your fate ? But in the end, aren't they just two sides of the same coin ?
       Certainly, Nishimura winds up in a position where he can hardly believe in much free will any longer -- or so it seems. But the book nicely ends without a clear resolution, fate still in the hands of the coin .....
       For much of The Thief Nishimura describes his pickpocketing techniques, a veritable ballet of carefully choreographed movements and staggers and bumps; at times he even loses himself in a blind frenzy of pickpocketing. But all the while there is also more to this character-portrait, human ties tugging at Nishimura, prodding him to show himself to be less a shadow and more a fully-fledged human being.
       Though the novel drips with fatalism, Nakamura doesn't force the philosophy home too heavily, slipping it lightly out of and into pockets like his protagonist does wallets. It's a very satisfying story, with an intriguing and well-realized protagonist, that's more than just a crime novel -- while still offering a very good mix of mystery and suspense.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 April 2012

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The Thief: Reviews: Nakamura Fuminori: Other books by Nakamura Fuminori under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Nakamura Fuminori (中村 文則) was born in 1977.

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© 2012-2023 the complete review

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