Excerpt from The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Thief

By Fuminori Nakamura

The Thief
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2012,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2013,
    304 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

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Print Excerpt


I joined the stream of weary people and went through the barrier. Looking at the fifteen or so average men and women gathered at the entrance to the station, I figured there was about two hundred thousand yen among them. I strolled off, lighting a cigarette. Behind a power pole to my left I saw a man check the contents of his wallet in full view and put it in the right pocket of his white down jacket. His cuffs were dark with stains, his sneakers worn and only the fabric of his jeans was good quality. I ignored him and went into Mitsukoshi Department Store. On the menswear floor, which was full of brand-name shops, there was a display mannequin wearing a coordinated outfit, something reasonably well-off guys in their late twenties or early thirties would wear. The mannequin and I were dressed the same. I had no interest in clothes, but people in my line of work can't afford to stand out. You have to look prosperous so that no one suspects you. You have to wear a lie, you have to blend into your environment as a lie. The only difference between me and the store dummy was the shoes. Keeping in mind that I might have to run away, I was in sneakers.

I took advantage of the warmth inside the shop to loosen my fingers, opening and closing my hands inside my pockets. The wet handkerchief I used to moisten my fingers was still cold. My forefinger and middle finger were almost the same length. Whether I was born like that or they gradually grew that way I don't know. People whose ring fingers are longer than their index fingers use their middle and ring fingers. Some people grip with three fingers, with the middle finger at the back. Like all forms of motion, there is a smooth, ideal movement for removing a wallet from a pocket. It's not only a matter of the angle, but of speed as well. Ishiwaka loved talking about this stuff. Often when he drank he became unguarded and chatty like a child. I didn't know what he was up to anymore. I figured he was probably already dead.

I entered a stall in the department store's dimly lit toilet, pulled on a thin pair of gloves and inspected the wallets. I'd made it a rule never to use the station toilets, just to be on the safe side. The Brunello Cucinelli man's held 96,000 yen, three American $100 bills, a Visa gold card, an American Express gold card, a driver's license, a gym membership card and a receipt for 72,000 yen from a fancy Japanese restaurant. Just when I was about to give up I found an intricately colored plastic card with nothing printed on it. I'd come across these before. They're for exclusive private brothels. In the male companion's wallet were 52,000 yen, a driver's license, a Mitsui Sumitomo credit card, cards for Tsutaya video store and a comic book café, several business cards from sex workers and a whole lot of scrap paper, receipts and the like. There were also some colorful pills with hearts and stars stamped on them. I only took the banknotes, leaving the rest inside. A wallet shows a person's personality and lifestyle. Just like a cell phone, it is at the center, forming the nucleus of the owner's secrets, everything he carries on him. I never sold the cards because it was too much bother. I did what Ishikawa would have done - if I dropped the wallets in a mailbox, the post office would forward them to the police, who would then return them to the address on the driver's license. I wiped off my fingerprints and put the wallets in my 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 strange in one of the hidden pockets inside my coat. Alarmed, I went back into the toilet. A Bulgari wallet, made of stiff leather. Inside was 200,000 yen in new bills. Also several gold cards, Visa and others, and the business cards of the president of a securities firm. I'd never seen the wallet or the 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 definitely the most valuable.

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Excerpted from The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura. Copyright © 2012 by Fuminori Nakamura. Excerpted by permission of Soho Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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