Friday, November 27, 2020

Review of The Plotters by Un-su Kim (2019, Fourth Estate; 2010 Korean)

As a small child Reseng was adopted by Old Raccoon, the keeper of the Doghouse Library. While it seems like an ordinary library, it has few visitors and actually serves as a hub for organized crime, especially contract killings. Reseng was groomed to be an assassin and has grown-up to become one of the best in the business. A secret group of plotters devise who should be killed and how; the library organizes the execution. But it’s a business that eats its own. The Old Raccoon is under pressure from a younger rival and Reseng is also under threat after deviating from a plot. And the opposition have the best killer in the business.

The Plotters is a noir tale set in South Korea. Pulling strings behind the scenes, a shadowy group of plotters orchestrate contract killings in which targets are eliminated and their bodies vanish. Reseng operates at the sharp-end, undertaking the kills and transferring the bodies to a pet crematorium. It’s a competitive business, where a deviation from a plot can place the assassin on the death list. Which is where Reseng finds himself. Only there appears to be more than one plotter at work, as well as rivalry in the underworld, unsettling the usual order. Trying to seize the initiative and save himself and his mentor, Reseng takes matters into his own hands, leading to a bloody set of encounters. Un-su Kim creates a dark, reflexive tale of a young assassin trying to survive in a cut-throat world. He does a nice job of constructing the world of the plotters, their actors and the Korean underworld. In many ways, Reseng is the least colourful character in a book populated by larger-than-life, quirky low-lives, but he has an interesting backstory and pursues his own strategy. The storytelling nicely blends pathos with dark humour, and is told in a literary voice. And while it is a little uneven in its pacing, mixing thoughtful description and reflection with action sequences, there’s never a dull moment in the narrative. Overall, an engaging, entertaining read and I’ll be looking out for other books by the author.


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