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by Un-Su Kim and Sora Kim-Russell, trans.
Penguin Random House, January 2019
304 pages
$24.95 CAD
ISBN: 0735276765

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In THE PLOTTERS, author Un-Su Kim plunges the reader into an utterly unbelievable, extremely twisted "alternate" Korea, in which powerful assassination guilds rule. Assassinations are everyday occurrences, as is the disposal of dead bodies in a pet crematorium. Brokers, plotters and assassins, each playing specific roles, are involved in endless cycles of betrayal, deception and subterfuge as the different organizations strive to dominate the market and undercut each other. A great deal of blood is split, soju drunk, cigarettes smoked -- and the action is often hysterically funny.

The central character, Reseng, was raised in the Doghouse, a massive library no one ever enters except the librarian and Old Raccoon, head of the Doghouse group. Reseng is a lowly assassin who simply follows orders and initially has no interest in why his victims are condemned to die, or by whom (the motives are mostly political or business-related). He can conceive of no other lifestyle or career. But when he departs slightly from his orders and cremates a body that should have been left in the open as a message, he finds himself in trouble. The plot revolves around his attempts to discover which group is now attempting to assassinate him, so that he can stay alive.

On the one hand Reseng is a simple killing machine, as hard-boiled and cynical as they come, but on the other he is something of a philosopher and a surprisingly endearing character. He delays one assassination by twenty-four hours in order to spend the night eating and drinking with his (possibly) unsuspecting victim. He discovers and befriends the plotter who is setting up his own assassination. He protects Old Raccoon at risk to himself even though he knows the old man is washed up. He confronts and very nearly dies at the hands of a more adept assassin who has killed one of his colleagues. Loyalty and betrayal are oddly powerful themes, given the innate criminality of all the novel's characters.

While Reseng's musings, the over-the-top action and bizarre settings are often darkly comical, the book is also finely paced and builds to an incredibly action-packed, bloody, suspenseful climax.

The story raises significant questions about the nature of humanity, corruption, institutions, life and death. Un-Su Kim's first novel to be translated into English marks an exciting and stylish debut. THE

PLOTTERS will linger in your mind long after you finish reading it.

Meg Westley is a writer and retired educator living in Stratford, Ontario.

Reviewed by Meg Westley, February 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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