An assassin in Seoul’s underworld is embroiled in a rivalry between the mysterious men who literally call the shots.
Reseng, the hero of the first novel by Kim to appear in English, is a coldblooded killer whose lone-wolf persona seems stitched out of equal parts Jack Reacher and Harry Bosch. An orphan, he was raised for most of his life by Old Raccoon, a shady fixer who lives in a massive but neglected library while plotting murders. Reseng has been the don’t-ask-questions type until he learns that a colleague didn’t follow through on killing a prostitute like he was supposed to. And when that colleague is found dead, he’s moved to start investigating the “plotters” who make his world move. The answer to Reseng’s inquiries aren’t particularly engaging or surprising: Corporations and government leaders in South Korea plan killings to preserve power, amassing a small army of “washed-up assassins, gangsters, retired servicemen and former homicide detectives, tired of working for peanuts.” And of course, Reseng is a target himself, via a bomb installed in his toilet. The novel is somewhat redeemed from its stock plotting in its more visceral moments: There’s a lively gallows humor to scenes where Reseng pays regular visits to the man who cremates gang-war victims, and he casually slices off one man’s fingers as coolly as you might make a salad. Kim makes a few gestures toward literary gravitas, like a flashback to a woman in Reseng’s more innocent past and some riffing about the source of human violence. (“A handful of villains isn’t enough to affect the world. The world is like this because we’re too meek.” ) But between the convoluted plotting and myriad stylistic intentions, Kim hasn’t identified a clear target to hit.
An energetic mashup of thriller tropes that doesn’t quite jell.