The Thief by Fuminori NakamuraThe Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

The Thief

byFuminori NakamuraTranslated bySatoko Izumo, Stephen Coates

Paperback | January 15, 2013

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A literary crime masterpiece that follows a Japanese pickpocket lost to the machinations of fate. Bleak and oozing existential dread, The Thief is simply unforgettable.  

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 Hardcover edition.
Fuminori Nakamura was born in 1977 and graduated from Fukushima University in 2000. He has won numerous prizes for his writing, including the Oe Prize, Japan’s largest literary award, and the prestigious Akutagawa Prize. The Thief, his first novel to be translated into English, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He is...
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Title:The ThiefFormat:PaperbackDimensions:224 pages, 7.48 × 5 × 0.58 inPublished:January 15, 2013Publisher:Soho PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1616952024

ISBN - 13:9781616952020

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Read from the Book

1When 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 thatdidn’t fit comfortably in my hands. They would tremblefaintly, asserting their independence, and before I knewit they’d come alive and fall to the ground. The point ofcontact, which was intrinsically morally wrong, seemedto be rejecting me. And in the distance there was alwaysthe tower. Just a silhouette floating in the mist like someancient daydream. But I don’t make mistakes like thatthese days. And naturally I don’t see the tower either.In front of me a man in his early sixties was walkingtowards the platform, in a black coat with a silver suitcasein his right hand. Of all the passengers here, I was surehe was the richest. His coat was Brunello Cucinelli, andso was his suit. His Berluti shoes, probably made to order,did not show even the slightest scuffmarks. His wealthwas obvious to everyone around him. The silver watchpeeping out from the cuff on his left wrist was a RolexDatejust. Since he wasn’t used to taking the bullet trainby himself, he was having some trouble buying a ticket.He stooped forward, his thick fingers hovering over thevending machine uncertainly like revolting caterpillars. Atthat moment I saw his wallet in the left front pocket of hisjacket.Keeping my distance, I got on the escalator, got off at aleisurely pace. With a newspaper in my hand, I stood behindhim as he waited for the train. My heart was beating a littlefast. I knew the position of all the security cameras on thisplatform. Since I only had a platform ticket, I had to finishthe job before he boarded the train. Blocking the view ofthe people to my right with my back, I folded the paperas I switched it to my left hand. Then I lowered it slowlyto create a shield and slipped my right index and middlefingers into his coat pocket. The fluorescent light glintedfaintly off the button on his cuff, sliding at the edge of myvision. I breathed in gently and held it, pinched the cornerof the wallet and pulled it out. A quiver ran from my fingertipsto my shoulder and a warm sensation gradually spreadthroughout my body. I felt like I was standing in a void, asthough with the countless intersecting lines of vision ofall those people, not one was directed at me. Maintainingthe fragile contact between my fingers and the wallet, Isandwiched it in the folded newspaper. Then I transferredthe paper to my right hand and put it in the inside pocketof my own coat. Little by little I breathed out, conscious ofmy temperature rising even more. I checked my surroundings,only my eyes moving. My fingers still held the tensionof touching a forbidden object, the numbness of enteringsomeone’s personal space. A trickle of sweat ran down myback. I took out my cell phone and pretended to check myemail as I walked away.I went back to the ticket gate and down the gray stairstowards the Marunouchi line. Suddenly one of my eyesblurred, and all the people moving around me seemed toshimmer, their silhouettes distorted. When I reached theplatform I spotted a man in a black suit out of the cornerof my eye. I located his wallet by the slight bulge in theright back pocket of his trousers. From his appearanceand demeanor I judged him to be a successful male companionat a ladies-only club. He was looking quizzically athis phone, his slender fingers moving busily over the keys.I got on the train with him, reading the flow of the crowd,and positioned myself behind him in the muggy carriage.When humans’ nerves detect big and small stimuli atthe same time, they ignore the smaller one. On this sectionof track there are two large curves where the trainshakes violently. The office worker behind me was readingan evening paper, folded up small, and the two middleagedwomen on my right were gossiping about someoneand laughing raucously. The only one who wasn’t simplytraveling was me. I turned the back of my hand towardsthe man and took hold of his wallet with two fingers. Theother passengers formed a wall around me on two sides.Two threads at the corner of his pocket were frayed andtwisted, forming elegant spirals like snakes. As the trainswayed I pushed my chest close to him as though leaningagainst his back and then pulled the wallet out vertically.The tight pressure inside me leaked into the air, Ibreathed out and a reassuring warmth flowed through mybody. Without moving I checked the atmosphere in thecarriage, but nothing seemed out of order. There was noway I would make a mistake in a simple job like this. Atthe next station I got off and walked away, hunching myshoulders like someone feeling the cold.I joined the stream of weary people and went throughthe barrier. Looking at the fifteen or so average men andwomen gathered at the entrance to the station, I figuredthere was about two hundred thousand yen among them.I strolled off, lighting a cigarette. Behind a power pole tomy left I saw a man check the contents of his wallet infull view and put it in the right pocket of his white downjacket. His cuffs were dark with stains, his sneakers wornand only the fabric of his jeans was good quality. I ignoredhim and went into Mitsukoshi Department Store. On themenswear floor, which was full of brand-name shops, therewas a display mannequin wearing a coordinated outfit,something reasonably well-off guys in their late twentiesor early thirties would wear. The mannequin and I weredressed the same. I had no interest in clothes, but peoplein my line of work can’t afford to stand out. You have tolook prosperous so that no one suspects you. You have towear a lie, you have to blend into your environment as alie. The only difference between me and the store dummywas the shoes. Keeping in mind that I might have to runaway, I was in sneakers.I took advantage of the warmth inside the shop toloosen my fingers, opening and closing my hands insidemy pockets. The wet handkerchief I used to moisten myfingers was still cold. My forefinger and middle finger werealmost the same length. Whether I was born like that orthey gradually grew that way I don’t know. People whosering fingers are longer than their index fingers use theirmiddle and ring fingers. Some people grip with three fingers,with the middle finger at the back. Like all forms ofmotion, there is a smooth, ideal movement for removing awallet from a pocket. It’s not only a matter of the angle, butof speed as well. Ishiwaka loved talking about this stuff.Often when he drank he became unguarded and chattylike a child. I didn’t know what he was up to anymore. Ifigured he was probably already dead.I entered a stall in the department store’s dimly littoilet, pulled on a thin pair of gloves and inspected thewallets. I’d made it a rule never to use the station toilets,just to be on the safe side. The Brunello Cucinelli man’sheld 96,000 yen, three American $100 bills, a Visa goldcard, an American Express gold card, a driver’s license, agym membership card and a receipt for 72,000 yen froma fancy Japanese restaurant. Just when I was about to giveup I found an intricately colored plastic card with nothingprinted on it. I’d come across these before. They’re forexclusive private brothels. In the male companion’s walletwere 52,000 yen, a driver’s license, a Mitsui Sumitomocredit card, cards for Tsutaya video store and a comicbook café, several business cards from sex workers and awhole lot of scrap paper, receipts and the like. There werealso some colorful pills with hearts and stars stamped onthem. I only took the banknotes, leaving the rest inside. Awallet shows a person’s personality and lifestyle. Just likea cell phone, it is at the center, forming the nucleus ofthe owner’s secrets, everything he carries on him. I neversold the cards because it was too much bother. I did whatIshikawa would have done—if I dropped the wallets in amailbox, the post office would forward them to the police,who would then return them to the address on the driver’slicense. I wiped off my fingerprints and put the wallets inmy pocket. The male escort might get busted for drugs,but that wasn’t my problem.Just as I was leaving the stall I felt something strangein one of the hidden pockets inside my coat. Alarmed, Iwent back into the toilet. A Bulgari wallet, made of stiffleather. Inside was 200,000 yen in new bills. Also severalgold cards, Visa and others, and the business cards of thepresident of a securities firm. I’d never seen the wallet orthe name on the cards before.Not again, I thought. I had no recollection of taking it.But of all the wallets I’d acquired that day it was definitelythe most valuable.2 Feeling a slight headache, I gave myself upto the rocking of the train. It was bound forHaneda Airport, but it was terribly crowded. Between theheating and the warmth of other people’s bodies, I wassweating. I stared out the window, moving my fingers inmy pockets. Clusters of dingy houses passed at regularintervals, like some kind of code. Suddenly I rememberedthe last wallet I took yesterday. I blinked and an enormousiron tower flashed by me with a loud roar. It was over in aninstant but my body stiffened. The tower was tall and I feltlike it had glanced casually at me standing tensely in themiddle of that crowded train.When I looked around the carriage I saw a man whoseemed to be totally absorbed by something. Not so muchconcentrating as in a trance, eyes half closed, as he gropeda woman’s body. I think that men like that fall into twotypes—ordinary people who have perverted tendencies,and people who are swallowed up by their perversion sothat the boundary between fantasy and reality becomesblurred and then disappears completely. I suspected hebelonged to the second group. Then I realized that thevictim was a junior high school student, and I wove myway through a gap in the crowd. Apart from me and himand the girl, no one had noticed anything.From behind, I deliberately grabbed the man’s leftwrist with my left hand. All his muscles suddenly jerkedinto life and then I felt him go limp, as though after asevere shock. Keeping hold of his wrist, I steadied hiswatch with my forefinger, undid the clasp on the strapwith my thumb and slid it into my sleeve. Then I pinchedhis wallet from the right inside pocket of his suit withmy right fingers. Realizing there was a risk of touchinghis body, I changed my movement, dropped the walletin the space between his jacket and shirt and caught itwith my left hand underneath. A company employee inhis late thirties, and judging from his ring he was married.I grasped his arm again, this time with my right hand.The color had drained from his face and he was strugglingto turn towards me, twisting his neck while rocking withthe motion of the train. Sensing the change behind her,the girl moved her head, unsure whether to turn aroundor not. The carriage was quiet. The man was trying toopen his mouth to speak, as if he wanted to justify himselfto me or to the world. It seemed like some malevolentspotlight was calling attention to his presence. His throatquivered as though he was getting ready to scream. Sweatwas running down his cheeks and forehead and his eyeswere wide but unfocused. Perhaps I would wear the sameexpression when I got caught. I released the pressure onhis arm and mouthed, “Go!” Face contorted, he couldn’tmake up his mind. I jerked my head towards the door.Arms trembling, he turned to the front again, as if he’drealized that I’d been looking at his face. The door openedand he ran. He thrust his way into the throng, wrigglingand shoving people out of the way.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for The ThiefA 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."—Tor.com“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.” —Grantland “Surreal.” —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.” —Booklist   “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.” —ForeWord “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  "For readers of psychological thrillers looking for a peek into the minds populating the Tokyo underworld, The Thief is a must." —Afar 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 BlogFrom the Hardcover edition.