Cover Image: The Plotters

The Plotters

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Member Reviews

Real Rating: 4.5* of five, rounded up for the sheer verve of the storytelling

Oh, you're gonna love this:
<blockquote>As if it wasn’t ironic enough that the country’s top assassination provider was brazenly running his business in a building owned by an international insurance company; the same assassination provider was also simultaneously managing a bodyguard firm and a security firm. But just as a vaccine company facing bankruptcy will ultimately survive not by making the world's greatest vaccine but, rather, the world's worst virus, so, too, did bodyguard and security firms need the world's most evil terrorists in order to prosper, not the greatest security experts. That was capitalism, Hanja understood how the world could curl around and bite its own tail like the uroboros serpent. And he knew how to translate that into business and extract the maximum revenue. There was no better business model than owning both the virus and the vaccine. With one hand you parceled out fear and instability, and with the other you guaranteed safety and peace. A business like that would never go under.

–and–

“People think villains like me are going to hell. But that’s not true. Villains are already in hell. Living every moment in darkness without so much as a single ray of light in your heart, that’s hell. Shivering in terror, wondering when you’ll become a target when the assassins will appear. True hell is living in a constant state of fear without even knowing that you’re in hell.”</blockquote>
Witty, trenchant, and true. I would go so far as to say tendentious. The wonder of meeting Reseng is that his existence is so extreme, committing murders for a living, and yet so extremely simple. Show up at this place at that time and do your job...kill. Like working at a meat-packing plant or a fish cannery. People aren't in any significant way more important than cattle or catfish. In this hypercapitalist alt-Seoul, there's little enough difference paid to any even notional difference between them, when it comes to one of the Plotters making a meticulous and scrupulously untraceable plan to off the person they're being paid to murder.

Make no mistake, these are murders, and they are violent. Author Kim does not stint on the violence. What makes it different from all those ghastly Stieg Larsson clones is that it's not sexual violence. There's a modicum of sex, and even a brief interlude where Reseng, having gotten himself in the crosshairs of nasty competing assassins because his boss (and sole parent figure since he was orphaned) is getting shoved out of the business, explores domesticity. It's...bizarre. To him as well, which is why it doesn't last.

The whole novel unfolds at the strangest pace. If you've watched Squid Game or Parasite, you'll see it here: the off-kilter way pacing is handled for us calibrated to US norms. It serves the plot in all of these cases, and it makes this story's universe really *feel* genuine, lived-in, and solid. I think that's a major plus compared to most of the violent thrillers I've read.

What caused me to give the read four stars in place of another half was, in fact, the mismatch between the violence of Reseng's profession, his philosophical musings about it (I chose one illustrating what I'm talking about above), and the cool remove of his actions and reactions. These things don't work together as well as it seems to me others believe they do. It's like watching a Godard film with a boy you want to bonk and then not getting any after you've invested unrecoverable hours trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

For all that, this here's a terrific entertaining read. Alienation, outrage, warped filial devotion, blood and gore...all present and accounted for. It's a weird trip and I'm glad I took it.
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The Plotters takes the elite assassin on a personal mission trope and places it in the midst of a nefarious South Korean system of string-pullers collaborating with government officials to orchestrate control. 
Reseng was taken in as an orphan and raised in a mysterious library by a man known as Old Raccoon who is one of the plotters’ go-to assassin providers. Reseng learns the trade and becomes a top assassin. He has a chance at a normal life and chooses to return, only to fall out of favor and become something of a plotter on his own to navigate the power struggles and infighting.
The book is very entertaining and thought provoking about identity and free will, with very vivid characters and locations.
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Such a great book. Makes for a wonderful read. I can not wait to read more from this author. I love books like this.
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Written with an icy cool veneer, this book offered so many surprising twists and turns.  The plot is seemingly simple- a hitman becomes ensnared in the very world that he thinks he is an insider of and the walls start to crumble around him.  We meet him while he is staking out a victim- an old man and his dog,  Things go off-kilter, and soon he is having spiked tea with the man, even allowing himself to fall asleep in his cabin with him.  That starts a series of deviations from his normal means of working, and ultimately questioning his insular world of plotters, and assassins. 

So much of what was done in this novel felt unique- it was set in Seoul but could have been anywhere as it had a dystopian feel to it with the names of the people (Old Racoon), with some of the places (Library of Dogs). A trio of oddball women enter the picture with aims of their own and things really start to get complicated.  

Wry, mysterious, plotty, and very cool, this was a different kind of read.  The only thing that wasn't for me was the level of violent description, which I will say should have been expected given the crime thriller genre. If that isn't something you are bothered by, then this would absolutely be a book that should be on your radar.
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This was strangely interesting despite not being particularly likable. 

Kim’s noir about killers for hire is a slow-paced but compelling look at the gritty underworld of a crime-ridden imagining of Seoul. Atmospherically the book is quite successful, but it fails to make the reader care much about the outcome. 

It’s not that the protagonist isn’t at least a little likable. He is, to an extent. Or I suppose it’s more that he’s intriguing. Unfortunately the book doesn’t give us much else that’s truly likable, and the alleged humor that was so often mentioned in blurbs and the publishers’ summary is virtually non-existent. 

It’s not that you don’t smirk at a line here or there, but that’s true of almost any book with half-decent writing, so it seems weird that the “This is funny!” claim was pushed so insistently when it was in fact mostly deadly serious and actually less humorous than most mystery/thrillers. Perhaps this is a translation issue, but I doubt it. 

The ending is a bit of a dud, which didn’t help, and I really could have done without the dog murder.
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What an achievement! I could not put this book down. It has the perfect blend of dark humor, wit, unexpected prose, and of course assassinations. The translation is beautiful and the characters were off-beat and interesting. I would love to read more from this author!
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The Plotters is the first book I read in 2019 and one of my top ten books of the year. 

It takes place in an alternative contemporary Seoul – one in which an elite cabal of politicians and corporate executives arrange for and order hits.  Their selected targets might be their enemies or the simply and suddenly inconvenient.  Our main character, 32-year old Reseng, is a well-read hit man.  He never had much of a chance for another career path.  He was discarded in a garbage can outside of a convent, raised by the nuns until he was 4, then adopted by his mentor and fellow assassin, Old Raccoon, and raised in an immense library that doubles as a front for the real business of assassinations for cash. “A request comes in and they draw up the plans. There’s someone above them who tells them what to do. And above that person is another plotter telling them what to do.” 

One day, Reseng is going about his business, with only the police to fear.  The next, he realizes that the various assassins in and around Seoul have been engaged to start picking one another off and, as The Plotters progresses, Reseng becomes an active target and we’re in a race to the finish. Along the way, he interacts with one vivid character after another – the most memorable of which is the Barber.  

The challenge in recommending The Plotters is that it doesn’t fit neatly into any sort of category. There’s no group of readers one can identify and say with any confidence, “you’ll love this.”  It’s absent inspiration or triumph of the human spirit.   It isn’t genre fiction; however, fans of gritty, crime novels like Nakamura’s The Thief are likely to enjoy it. It’s literary fiction, but the LitFic reader seeking experimental fiction or magical realism or a political statement won’t find it here.   If you’re willing to dwell in a nihilistic world for the hours it takes to read The Plotters and can enjoy novels that are driven by more than finding out what happens next – notwithstanding the ominous sense of suspense – you may love it as much as I did.  The Plotters is highly visual.  And each reader must understand and accept – as Reseng does – that there’s no escape for him, no rescue, no happy ending available, and yet be determined to take the ride with him, visually through this alternative South Korea, viscerally, from beginning to end – whether in a barber shop, or on a street, or endeavoring to sleep. Knowing that his destiny is that everyone really is out to get him.   I couldn’t recommend it more….  if you’re that reader.
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I'm not entirely sure what I thought of this book, so I may adjust my overall rating (currently at 3 stars) as I think about it more. It's rare that I think that the middle part of a book is best, but I definitely think that was where this one captivated me the most. I feel a bit unsatisfied with how the book ended, but I can't pinpoint exactly why. Definitely a thought-provoking read.
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I'm familiar with Korean cinema, especially thrillers and mysteries, but this was a good first book to pick when starting with Korean literature, if you're interested in the genre, of course. Will definitely look up if it has been adapted for the big screen.
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Thank you NetGalley and Publisher for this early copy,

The atmosphere, writing style, and plot were all well-done.
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Are we sure Tarantino didn't write this book? Thriller/comedy in one. This is a writer to keep your eye on. I would not be surprised to see this turn into a movie. Loved the ending.
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I wasn't sure what to expect, but I enjoyed reading this. An interesting story with fun characters. Well written.
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I was a little disappointed in the ending of this one. Everything led up to this battle. Mito was going to take down all of the plotter system, but Reseng took control and went literally on a suicide mission. The way the story was told, I had expected something a little more than a shooting rampage at a mall. I'm assuming since he left the ledgers for Mito that there will be more to the story or a possible sequel but that isnt even very clear. Overall, it was a quick read and I enjoyed the pacing but I just wanted more in the end.
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What a thought-provoking, dark, beautiful book - not my typical subject matter, but I'm glad I picked this up.  I loved the complicated morality and gorgeous writing.
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The Plotters is one of those novels that doesn’t quite fit in to any one genre. On the one hand you have a dark novel filled with violence and a game of cat and mouse that keeps one guessing up to the last pages. On the other hand, you have an almost slice-of-life type of story with the main character, Reseng, simply trying to get through another day. It is an interesting mixture and a dichotomy that shouldn’t work yet somehow does.

Now I will not lie to you dear reader, there is a good deal of violence in this book. Not surprising considering this is a book about assassins. People shoot at each other, have knife fights, so forth and so on; and while the fight scenes don’t go in to too much detail, there is still the potential that some readers could find it triggering.

While The Plotters was an enjoyable read, it did start at a kind of slow pace. For the majority of the first half of the book we are following Reseng as he goes about his business as an assassin. It isn’t until over halfway through the book that we meet the three women who challenge his views of the underworld in which he resides. Perhaps if he had met these women earlier, the book would have taken a different turn from what it did.

On the whole, I liked reading The Plotters. While I am quite sure some of the nuances were lost in the translation from Korean to English, it was still enough to keep me interested and reading. Readers who enjoy darker, film noir type stories will likely enjoy this one as well.
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Reseng is an assassin who lives in Korea.  He lives a pretty simple life -- he's given a name, he kills that person, he's paid and he moves on to the next victim.  He takes the victim's bodies to his friend Bear, who operates a crematorium.  He has no wife, no children.  His only family is a man named Old Raccoon, his foster father since he was a child.  Old Raccoon runs the network that Reseng works for, but the people above Old Raccoon are The Plotters.

Reseng has never known any other existence.  He's never had a real family or a regular job, except for a brief amount of time that he went into hiding and worked at a factory.

While the description of the book sounds bleak, I really enjoyed this book.  It has a lot of dark humor and it's very well written.  It's definitely a departure from the books I typically read, and for me personally I find it good to break out of my routine and read something different once in a while.
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The author's ambition seems to be to cram in every cliché from American noir and gangster films (definitely the films and not the books) into one chaotic novel. He accomplishes with with consummate skill and the result both entertaining and compelling. But heaps of clichés do not make a real novel. I have to part company with some other reviewers on that point.

The translation is a bit awkward at points. The protagonist "charges" his sniper rifle (loads it? cocks it? removes the safety?) and buys "boxes" of beer (cases? six-packs? beer in boxes?). All the names are allegorical, which is a challenge in translation. 

The protagonist, for example, is named Reseng, which we are told most of the way through the book, means "next life." I don't know if this is true in Korean, but if so, it should be something the reader knows from the first rather than is told explicitly late in the book. The protagonist's father figure is named Raccoon or Old Raccoon, which could be a nickname, but it's awkward to hear him referred to as Mr. Raccoon. There is also a Bear, Trainer, Barber, Mito and Miso; it's hard for an English reader to tell which of these names sound natural in Korean and which ones are absurd.

In one sense the story is simple with a limited cast of characters, all connected by one thing, and all told from the point of view of the shallow-thinking protagonist. The author manages a fast-moving, taut thriller plot expertly with nearly all slow and thoughtful scenes. Everything is simple, nothing makes sense.

In another sense the story is complex due to the need to work in so many references. There are scenes from Scarface (preceded by an actual scar on the face), The Getaway, The Godfather, Suddenly and too many others to list here. Amazingly the protagonist is flexible enough to play each scene credibly, although in the original movies they were done by very different characters.

I recommend this book as a fun read, especially for fans of the referenced movies. It's also a pleasure to read for the skill of the author. But I don't think there's as much depth here are other reviewers found.
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I would give this 3.75 stars if that were possible. Specifically an individual versus the system narrative, which is central to what interests me as a writer... the book is philosophical and funny and full of cinematic action and memorable characters. Themes concerning the rigidity of the system and the courage (or lack thereof) that comes with being committed to a life detached from love resonate. If there's a bump for me it's that the plotting is more conventional than the writing style. But overall a page-turning and thoughtful novel I'd thoroughly recommend if you enjoy the genre.
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In The Plotters, groups of assassins do the dirty work of mysterious criminal masterminds. When one assassin, Reseng, takes liberties on a couple of assignments, he disrupts the carefully crafted plans of one anonymous “plotter” and puts his own life at risk.

Hailed as an example of Korean noir, Un-su Kim’s The Plotters has received glowing reviews and promised everything I might like in a thriller: Dark humor, mystery, action and beautiful writing. The book opens with a touching and brilliantly written chapter following Reseng on an assignment. But beyond the captivating opening, the novel wavered.

While The Plotters (digital galley, Doubleday) is full of well written and moody scenes, the story unfolds in a slow and haphazard manner and it takes more than half of the book for some major characters to be introduced. Unfortunately it isn’t until then, a little too late, that we begin to understand where the plot is going.
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The Plotters is my first Kim Un-Su novel and it’s truly unlike anything I’ve read before. The Korean master-author’s prose is highly intelligent without a hint of pretentiousness and chock full of dark humor. One moment you're faced with the horror of humanity only to crack a smile as Reseng makes a witty retort and it feels completely natural. Every word matters, this story has no fluff or tangents, and the fight scenes are exceptionally well done.

There were many surprises along the way but everything that happened felt right, including the best ending I can imagine for the story. I really enjoyed Reseng as a character: he's wonderfully complex and you can't help but root for him, even if he's a cold-blooded assassin. Other characters were entertaining as well, though I would probably say Jeongan and Misa were my favorites. Every secondary character, even the unnamed ones, was fleshed-out well with their own mannerisms and personal histories. The pacing was fascinating as a thriller. Unlike the typical American thriller, which is really grip-your-seat-and-hang-on, The Plotters was more of a slow burn as it built upon each layer methodically until the last fourth of the book where all the plots start moving with quicker motion to the crashing finale.

I can’t wait to see what Kim translation comes to us next as this is the first in English and so many of his Korean language novels are widely-acclaimed by both publishers and readers. It's such a wonderfully unique book and I want more! I highly recommend this thriller, especially to readers looking abroad for incredible fiction, and I expect it to top the list of amazing to-English novel translations for 2019.

Note: I received a free Kindle edition of this book via NetGalley in exchange for the honest review above. I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher Doubleday Books, and the author Kim Un-Su for the opportunity to read it and share my thoughts.
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