Anchor Books, 292 pages, $16.95 (c2019)
Translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell
At times, “The Plotters” is a very beautiful book about assassins. Most of the time, the book is a meditation on human frailty, the futility of creating a good life, searching for a reason to live, and pondering whether death is frightening or enlightening. Some of time, there are assassins assassinating.
“The Plotters” is set in modern day South Korea, but the book feels like a comic book fantasy. There are “plotters,” people who determine a target and hire an agency. There is “The Library,” one of those agencies, with a roster of assassins. There is Renseng. He was a garbage can baby. After he was rescued from the garbage can, he grew up in The Library, taken care of, so to speak, by Old Raccoon, the head “librarian.” Inevitably, Renseng became an assassin. He is young but he is good.
There actually are books, thousands of books, in The Library. There is even a cross-eyed assistant librarian, but she doesn’t appear to assist with much of anything. Renseng hangs out at The Library waiting for his next kill assignment. So does Hanja, although it appears Hanja is making his way up in the world and is leaving The Library behind.
Bear cremates the victims and sometimes assassins who have met a sorry fate. Although business is slowing, death and more death tend to go on. Bear respectfully deals with the remains.
What loyalty does Renseng owe to Old Raccoon, a taciturn and unaffectionate old man? Do the assassinated people weigh heavily on Renseng’s soul? If not, why not? Doesn’t Renseng want a normal life with a family and love? All is pondered as the pages move along. Along with cat cafés, knitting shops, pink bicycle baskets, women assassins, and new underwear.
Although “The Plotters” is not a comic or humorous book, it has its eccentric moments. I’d say the overarching feeling is melancholy. Times are changing for the assassins, and they must adapt or die. And someone may be trying to kill Renseng.
The last chapter (hooray for books with chapter titles!), “The Door to the Left,” begins with a beautiful meditative thought before Renseng gets cracking at what he does best. It is unfortunate that killing is what Renseng does best. Renseng would agree with me.
I highly recommended this book to you if you want a very different kind of thriller, if you want something at a deeper level, but not if you want to learn to be an assassin.