Mystery Books for Sale

[ Home ]
[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]


by Un-Su Kim and Sora Kim-Russell, trans.
Doubleday, January 2019
292 pages
ISBN: 0385544383

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Business is murder, goes the cliche. In the award-winning South Korean writer Un-su Kim newly-translated novel THE PLOTTERS, murder is business. For over a generation, a crusty old administrator of assassins, Old Raccoon, has plied a reliable murder business from the Doghouse Library, a seemingly venerable archive of 200,000 mostly unread books. Occasionally, he culls the volumes, adding black bookmarks to those consigned to literal flames. The books stand in, not quite by Old Raccoon's intention, for the people whom his business destroys. They too, are burned, by his trusty and banal associate Bear.

The reader visits this uncannily recognisable world through the eyes of Reseng, a young man whom Old Raccoon allegedly raised to be a killer after finding him in the garbage can outside a convent. Having surreptitiously learned to read and plodded through some of the library's books, Reseng idolizes Achilles, hero of the Iliad and a kind of hired assassin himself, in the context of war. Reseng therefore possesses a glimmer of belief in humanity, yet keeps on doing his job, not knowing what else he might do instead. When he messes up a politically significant commission, however, he incurs the wrath of its Plotters, and ends up on the radar of another of Old Raccoon's protégés, the assassin Hanja. Can he evade death? Does he want to?

This plot, as cliche as it might sound, strings along a canny examination of the violence of corporate work and networks. Reseng cares for his job no more than an above-ground corporate worker; their bosses care for the riches of real libraries no more than do his. He meets a mysterious and vengeful daughter and sister of plotting victims, a woman who wants the system to change, but she might as well direct that anger at the other set of plotters, the barons of industry. The most humane characters by far are the pets: an elderly general's large, rambunctious, tragically loyal dog and Reseng's library cats Desk and Lampshade. The unpretentious dialogue and made-up details of Library culture pull the reader along... as does Reseng's Achillean drive to outrun his fate.

Sora Kim-Russell's translation makes Kim's world clear and compelling, exoticizing nothing and also, as far as I can tell, avoiding the imposition of glaringly American idioms. Like the individual plotters and assassins, the parts of THE PLOTTERS adds up to something ineffably rather more. I hope to have further opportunities to read Un-su Kim's works in English translation.

§ Rebecca Nesvet is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. She specializes in nineteenth-century literature. https://uwgb.academia.edu/RebeccaNesvet

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, March 2019

[ Top ]



Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]
[ Home ]