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The Thief Hardcover – March 20, 2012

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2012: In Fuminori Nakamura's new novel, the main character weaves along the streets of Tokyo pickpocketing his way through the flow of humanity, as if in a dream. He lifts wallets filled with cash and credit cards with a masterful ease, his mind occupied with a trance-like debate about whether to care anymore. Whether to care about the young kid he sees clumsily stealing food at a supermarket. Whether to care about his partner, who disappeared after a botched robbery years ago. Oscillating between the real connection he establishes with the shoplifting boy and the drug-like daze of his own criminal past, the thief drifts back into the clutches of the mastermind of that ill-fated robbery. And the thief starts to wake up, only to realize that a noose is being carefully, and slowly, drawn around his neck. --Benjamin Moebius


Praise for The Thief

Los Angeles Times Book Prize 2013 Finalist
A Wall Street Journal Best Fiction of 2012 Selection
A World Literature Today Notable Translation

An Amazon Best Mystery/Thriller of the Month
Winner of Japan’s Prestigious Ōe Prize

The Thief brings to mind Highsmith, Mishima and Doestoevsky . . . A chilling existential thriller leaving readers in doubt without making them feel in any way cheated.”
 —Wall Street Journal, Best Book of the Year Selection
“I was deeply impressed with The Thief. It is fresh. It is sure to enjoy a great deal of attention.”
—Kenzaburō Ōe, Nobel Prize-winning author of A Personal Matter
“Fascinating. I want to write something like The Thief someday myself.”
—Natsuo Kirino, bestselling author of Edgar-nominated Out and Grotesque
“An intelligent, compelling and surprisingly moving tale, and highly recommended.”
The Guardian
“Nakamura's prose is cut-to-the-bone lean, but it moves across the page with a seductive, even voluptuous agility. I defy you not to finish the book in a single sitting.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch 

“Fuminori Nakamura’s Tokyo is not a city of bright lights, bleeding-edge technology, and harajuku girls with bubblegum pink hair. In Nakamura’s Japan, the lights are broken, the knives are bloodier than the tech, and the harajuku girls are aging single mothers turning tricks in cheap tracksuits. His grasp of the seamy underbelly of the city is why Nakamura is one of the most award-winning young guns of Japanese hardboiled detective writing.”
Daily Beast

"Citing the influence of Dostoyevsky and Kafka, Nakamura is a master of atmosphere, blending elements of surrealism, existentialism and crime fiction to create a grim, colorless, noire Tokyo."

“It's simple and utterly compelling - great beach reading for the deeply cynical. If you crossed Michael Connelly and Camus and translated it from Japanese.”

Sacramento Bee
, “Page-Turner” Pick

“Nakamura’s writing is spare, taut, with riveting descriptions . . . Nakamura conjures dread, and considers philosophical questions of fate and control . . . For all the thief’s anonymity, we come to know his skill, his powerlessness and his reach for life.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Nakamura’s memorable antihero, at once as believably efficient as Donald Westlake’s Parker and as disaffected as a Camus protagonist, will impress genre and literary readers alike.”
Publishers Weekly

“Compulsively readable for its portrait of a dark, crumbling, graffiti-scarred Tokyo—and the desire to understand the mysterious thief.”
“Disguised as fast-paced, shock-fueled crime fiction, Thief resonates even more as a treatise on contemporary disconnect and paralyzing isolation.”
Library Journal

“Nakamura’s dark imagination gives rise to his literary world . . . the influences of Kafka and Dostoyevsky are not hard to spot.”
—The Japan Times

“Fast-paced, elegantly written, and rife with the symbols of inevitability.”

The Thief manages to wrap you up in its pages, tightly, before you are quite aware of it.”
—Mystery Scene
“[An] extremely well-written tale . . . Readers will be enthralled by this story that offers an extremely surprising ending.”
Suspense Magazine
“The reader catches glimpses of Japan and its lifestyle, which is far from a pretty picture.” 
—Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine

“Nakamura succeeds in creating a complicated crime novel in which the focus is not on the crimes themselves but rather on the psychology and physicality of the criminal. The book’s power inheres in the voice of the thief, which is itself as meticulously rendered as the thief’s every action.”
—Three Percent
“Both a crime thriller and a character study, it is a unique and engrossing read, keeping a distant yet thoughtful eye on the people it follows . . . It’s a haunting undercurrent, making The Thief a book that’s hard to shake once you’ve read it.”
—Mystery People
“The drily philosophical tone and the noir atmosphere combine perfectly, providing a rapid and enjoyable ‘read’ that is nonetheless cool and distant, provoking the reader to think about (as much as experience) the tale.”
—International Noir Fiction

“More than a crime novel, The Thief is a narrative that delves deep into the meaning of theft and the nature of justice . . . Japanese crime fiction has a new star."
—Out of the Gutter Magazine

“So many issues are raised in this novel. It is wonderfully brief, and spare, much like something Hemingway would write."
—Dolce Bellezza Blog

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Crime; 1 edition (March 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616950218
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616950217
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #514,066 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on March 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The Thief is a Japanese version of noir, a dark psychological thriller that builds suspense rapidly as Nishimura, a pickpocket who often seems to be on the verge of a breakdown, becomes ensnared in the grip of a shadowy underworld figure in Tokyo. Nishimura's tension is palpable in the novel's early pages. He finds wallets in his pocket he does not remember stealing. He catches glimpses of a mysterious tower that he often saw in his childhood, a tower that may never have existed and that becomes a recurring, haunting image as the story progresses.

Nishimura imagines seeing his mentor, Ishikawa, as he looks into the faces of homeless men. For Ishikawa, picking pockets carried the ecstatic thrill of artistry. Not so for Nishimura as he nervously ponders Ishikawa's fate. The two men were wrapped up in a serious crime, more serious than Nishimura anticipated, and he hasn't seen Ishikawa since. The man who masterminded that crime soon recruits Nishimura to steal three things. The difficult assignments will tax Nishimura's skill as a pickpocket, but he is threatened with death if he fails.

The criminals in The Thief are unusually philosophical. Nishimura wonders whether there is "something deep-rooted in our nature" that compels people to steal. As a child he equated stealing with freedom; as an adult he's less certain of that equation. He thinks about how he has "rejected community" by reaching out his hands to steal, how he has "built a wall around myself and lived by sneaking into the gaps in the darkness of life." The mastermind, on the other hand, discusses the importance of balance, the need to feel sympathy and pity for a victim while torturing her to death.
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Susan Tunis TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As much as I read, I read plenty of novels in translation. I neither seek them out nor avoid them. But as a not especially well-traveled American, I do always have a gnawing feeling that I'm lacking the cultural context to fully appreciate the tale I'm reading. And while that's certainly no fault of the author's, that was again the feeling I had while reading Fuminori Nakamura's novella, The Thief.

It is about--you won't be surprised to learn--a thief, specifically a pickpocket. Now, Japanese popular culture has disavowed me of any notion that theirs is a gentler, more upstanding society than my own. Much of what I've seen out of Japan is even harsher than what we Americans produce. Still, I have an idea that with the prominent role of honor in their society, that to be a thief in Japan is somehow... different than it is here. More of a break with the mainstream, but perhaps I'm overanalyzing.

What I can tell you is that the thief at the heart of this novel is a rather tragic character. Through the course of this brief tale, we get some inkling about how he came to his life of crime. Part of it was circumstance, but much of it was in his nature. For this man, to steal is almost a reflexive action, at times completely unconscious. A psychologist might have a few things to say. Regardless, he lives a very isolated life.

During the course of this story, two notable things occur: a woman and her child come into his life, and he comes to the attention of a bigger fish. Regarding the woman and the child--do not in any way assume you can guess the nature of those relationships based on that sentence. Regarding the bigger fish, he's a scary man. He coerces this pickpocket into participating in some illegal activities.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sam Sattler on March 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The Thief is Japanese author Fuminori Nakamura's first novel to be published in English. Judging from the quality of The Thief, I believe it is safe to say that it will not be his last. The young author, already a winner of multiple literary prizes in his native Japan, seems destined soon for wider recognition of his talents.

"The Thief" in this story is such an accomplished pickpocket that he sometimes goes on automatic pilot, even to the point that he cannot remember the source of the wallet full of money he later discovers in his own pocket. He was trained by one of the best in the business, an older man named Ishikawa, and the skills he learned provide him with a good living.

Now, Ishikawa reappears and offers our Thief the chance at some easy money to be earned as part of a gang contracted to perform a "sure thing" breaking and entering job. All the gang has to do is break into a man's home, tie him up, and steal everything in his safe - everything. But, of course, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. When the surprisingly prominent target ends up dead, all the Thief really understands about the crime is that he will be lucky to survive his participation in it.

Fuminori Nakamura's Thief is a complicated man, one not at all bothered by how he makes his living but, especially when it comes to children, still a softie at heart. Because it is so easy for him to acquire cash, the Thief even allows himself a touch of Robin Hoodish behavior on occasion - as in when he gives away a whole day's take on the streets to stop a young boy's mother from forcing him repeatedly to shoplift the food and supplies she wants.
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