Pickpocket Nishimura and two other punks have been hired by the dangerously violent Kizaki to participate in a high-stakes robbery. An old investor, sitting on 80 million yen for which he hasn't paid taxes, possesses a packet of incriminating documents. After the robbery succeeds way too easily, Nishimura discovers that the old man they left bound and alive has been found murdered--and, far more than an investor, he's a politician. A number of powerful people suddenly show up dead. His buddy who got him the job warns him to get out of town fast, but doesn't manage to make it himself. Only a few teeth remain.
The Thief is an inside look at a professional Japanese pickpocket's hazardous life, and Fuminori Nakamura serves it up fast and dirty, like he knows what he's talking about. Nishimura is a hardened lost soul who hasn't shed all his humanity yet. When he sees that a kid shoplifting in the supermarket has been spotted by the store detective, he grabs the boy's stolen goods and buys them for him. The next morning, he finds the boy waiting outside his door. The boy grows to silently adore him. He teaches the boy how to steal without getting caught, and from then on, nothing can get rid of the nameless kid, who becomes Nishimura's tagalong disciple.
The ruthless and cynical Kizaki, driven by an addiction to control others' lives, is the motor that revs the mounting tension. The novel's other characters are swift, shadowy sketches. Many remain nameless or go by Tallest, Flattop, Buzzcut. The thrill in The Thief is not character but pace, and the pace never flags. The biting, realistic narrative takes off like a bullet and just keeps getting tighter and more dangerous. When recaptured by the frightening Kizaki, Nishimura is told he must steal three items--and whoever fails Kizaki dies, generating huge suspense as the plot drives toward its finale.
Too late to save himself from the consequences of a life of stealing, Nishamura tries to save the boy instead. Though Nakamura's grim tale ends as an unflinching portrait of syndicate ruthlessness, it may leave you wondering why exactly you've been conducted hurtling through this suspense piece only to be defeated by the irrational, merciless world of crime. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle
Shelf Talker: A Japanese pickpocket falls into the web of an underworld kingpin in this breakneck crime novel. It's easy to see why The Thief won Japan's biggest literary award, the Oe Prize, in 2009.