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Brief book review: The Plotters

The Plotters - coverKim Un-su: The Plotters
Translated by Sora Kim-Russell
Fourth Estate, 2019, 304 pp
Originally published as 설계자들, Seoul 2010

I always find when embarking on a new book it pays to have neutral expectations. That way you won’t be disappointed. But sometimes it’s hard to filter out your own personal prejudices and the word of mouth that you hear about a particular book. Influenced by favourable press, I opened the pages of JM Lee’s The Investigation and Jeong You-jeong’s The Good Son with quite high expectations, and particularly with the former I was disappointed. Maybe I over-adjusted. I started Unsu Kim’s The Plotters more out of a sense of duty than anything else, and I was gripped from the start.

The plot posits a shadowy system that enables high-up clients at the top levels of government or big corporations to erase inconvenient individuals – a system that involves plotters (behind-the-scenes individuals who research, design and plan the best way to erase the target) and assassins (maybe ex-military people) who, er, execute the plan. Our hero is one such assassin. It’s obviously a dangerous job, and the world of the assassins is increasingly subject to, er, cut-throat competition. To say much more would be to spoil the reading experience.

Althought it’s set in Seoul, the action could take place anywhere: you don’t need a Korean cultural primer to enjoy this one. Suffice it to say that the story is exciting and fast moving, and there’s plenty of slick, wise-cracking dialogue. Here’s a sample, in which an assassin, who has found a tiny bomb round the U-bend of his toilet, discusses its potency with an explosives expert:

“This would’ve blown your ass off.”
“That tiny thing?”
“The pressure is higher inside a toilet bowl. It’s like squeezing a firecracker in your hand when it goes off. Basically, when you sit down to take a shit, your ass forms a seal over the hole, creating the perfect conditions for this bomb to do maximum damage.”
“Are you saying it could have killed me?”
“Ever seen anyone survive without an ass?”

If that’s your cup of tea, and I confess that once in a while, particularly when on holiday, it’s mine, then you’ll enjoy The Plotters. I confess it was longer than I was expecting (I actually read this on my tablet, so I didn’t know how long it would be) but it certainly didn’t outstay its welcome. As I was reading it, I was drawing parallels with Martin Limon’s excellent thrillers set in 1970s Korea, of which I’m rather a fan. Plotters is as good as or maybe even better than those.

The book was on the schedule for the KCC’s literature nights last year. I can’t imagine what there was to discuss. There’s not much to say about it other than it’s hellish fun.


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