Book Chat’s Rating: ∗∗∗∗/5

The Thief is a seasoned pickpocket. Anonymous in his tailored suit, he weaves in and out of Tokyo crowds, stealing wallets from strangers so smoothly sometimes he doesn’t even remember the snatch. Most people are just a blur to him, nameless faces from whom he chooses his victims. He has no family, no friends, no connections…. But he does have a past, which finally catches up with him when Ishikawa, his first partner, reappears in his life, and offers him a job he can’t refuse. It’s an easy job: tie up an old rich man, steal the contents of the safe. No one gets hurt. Only the day after the job does he learn that the old man was a prominent politician, and that he was brutally killed after the robbery. And now the Thief is caught in a tangle even he might not be able to escape.

~ From the book cover

So that was the introduction from the book cover. At the time I was thinking it would be a fast-pace crime novel with twisted plots. Yet many times I find that it was more humane than expected. As I was reading it, I had a hard time decide which direction I want the book to continues. The Thief was short, exciting, boring, thought provoking, plain and certainly unforgettable.

I didn’t pick up a hint of Kafka or Dostoevsky as some readers claimed,  perhaps due to the translation, since Nakamura’s writing appears to be very clean and direct (unlike the styles of Kafka & Dostoevsky as I remember). But even with short and straightforward prose, Nakamura was still able to deliver raw emotions through his characters. Interestingly I learned a great deal of pick pocketing as a profession, which proves Nakamura has a keen eye in observing the world around him. It makes me look around a bit and think about the people that are watching other people. It reminds me of the visible and invisible grids we’re living in.

It never occurred to me that the idea of controlling other people’s lives could be fascinating. Living your own life, as the Thief was living, is already too much for the brains. Yet Kizaki has explained as if it was his life mission, perhaps that is why this series is called Kizaki as shown in goodreads? And the center of the story is not the Thief who pick pocketed people’s wallets but Kizaki who has been and will continue to pick pocket someone’s lives without them noticing, unless he let them, as a God.

I direct other people’s lives from behind a desk. Reigning over people like that – that’s like being a god, don’t you think? If there is a god, he appreciates this world more than anyone. When I’m controlling people, I sometimes feel like I’ve absorbed them. Their thoughts and everything they’ve ever felt are inside me, like I’ve been invaded by lots of people’s emotions at the same time. You’ve never experienced it, so you won’t understand. It’s the greatest pleasure there is.

With what was going on, I’m not at all surprised by the ending of the book. It was very much like how it began: going about in a circle, then back to the tower, which I still can’t decipher what that means. Perhaps it does not have any meaning, it’s existential so long as the mind is still connected to it. Sometimes it feels as if it could be the green light across the river in The Great Gatsby. Therefore, it’s worth reading it to think about it, even though you may or may not be able to make sense of it.

When I was a kid, I often messed this up.

In crowded shops, in other people’s houses, things I’d pick up furtively would slip from my fingers. Strangers’ possessions were like foreign objects that didn’t fit comfortably in my hands. They would tremble faintly, asserting their independence, and before I knew it they’d come alive and fall to the ground. The point of contact, which was intrinsically morally wrong, seemed to be rejecting me. And in the distance there was always the tower. Just a silhouette floating in the mist like some ancient daydream. But I don’t make mistakes like that these days. And naturally I don’t see the tower either.

The bastard took pickpockets too lightly, I thought, listening to the footsteps coming closer. I was damned if I was going to die here. Surely my life hadn’t been so pointless I deserved a death like this. With all my strength I squeezed the coin in my fingers. Far off, standing tall, was the hazy tower.

When I spied the figure of a person I hurled the coin, grimacing with pain. The bloody disc blotted out the sun’s rays, glistening darkly in the air, as though hoping for some kind of deviation.

Hardcover, 211 pages
Published March 20th 2012 by Soho Crime (first published October 10th 2009)
Original title: 掏摸(スリ), series Kizaki #1
Literary awards: Los Angeles Times Book Prize Nominee for Mystery/Thriller (2012),Kenzaburo Oe Prize (2010), Prix Zoom Japon for Littérature (2013)
Translators: Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates