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The Thief

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  4,903 ratings  ·  668 reviews
A literary crime masterpiece that follows a Japanese pickpocket lost to the machinations of fate. Bleak and oozing existential dread, The Thief is simply unforgettable.

The Thief is a seasoned pickpocket. Anonymous in his tailored suit, he weaves in and out of Tokyo crowds, stealing wallets from strangers so smoothly sometimes he doesn’t even remember the snatch. Most peop
Hardcover, 211 pages
Published March 20th 2012 by Soho Crime (first published 2009)
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Average rating 3.52  · 
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 ·  4,903 ratings  ·  668 reviews

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At its core The Thief aims to be a philosophical neo-noir, but in the end it simply proves too bland to pass the test. The protagonist and narrator of the book is a seasoned Tokyo pickpocket, and also a total enigma: he has no family and very few friends, and for most of the book we do not even learn hi name. He moves throughout the crowd, dressed in good suits, and steals money from other people in good suits, who remain as anonymous to him as he is to us.

Most of the intrigue in the early parts
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Damn, just… *pours a glass of sake and downs it in one go* … just damn.

Do you want a bleak noir? I don’t mean a sympathetic criminal narrator who get’s his comeuppance tragically, or a hard boiled private eye getting stuck sending his love interest to the slammer after solving that she committed the crime; I mean something that is soul crushing. Something that makes you wonder what the point is of… well, everything.

The plot follows our narrator after he returns to Tokyo. He’s been gone for a w
Sam Quixote
Feb 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Fuminori Nakamura’s novel The Thief has the distinction of being a quick, fast-paced read without really having a plot! Our protagonist is a skilled Tokyo pickpocket who gets roped into one scheme after another by the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) – until he isn’t.

Nakamura might’ve mentioned the main character’s name at some point but I’ve completely forgotten it. Not that he has much of a character anyway – like everyone else in the book, he’s essentially a cipher. He effortlessly picks anyone’s poc
Mar 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Film Noir meets Georges Simenon

“The Thief” was amazingly good. It’s about a Tokyo pick pocket who gets caught up with some big time criminals. It’s a very short book so I was shocked at how psychological it was. I’m not sure how the author was able to include such an in depth take on Nishimura, the main character in so few words. Nishimura spends his days on packed trains and packed streets finding his mark and swiftly moving in. He has standards though. He only takes the cash and puts the rest
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-borrowed
Japanese noir! Not only must the skill of the author be admired, but that of the translators who took a Japanese novel, albeit a short novel, and turned it into an English-language novel. I don't know if in Japanese it had the same feel to it, the same Rhythm, the same cadence, but it has a real sense to it in English, a real feel To it rather than simply being an awkward translation.

It's an unusual novel and rather than being an action piece, it is a slow languid ode to a man who is a solitary
Jon Nakapalau
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, crime
A professional pickpocket finds himself in the middle of a complex maze of deceit with no way out. When he picks the pocket of a prominent politician (who is murdered) he finds that there are individuals that want to use him as a 'mark' it or not. Atmospheric and chilling - a great crime novel.
May 22, 2012 rated it did not like it
Despite being regularly underwhelmed by Japanese crime fiction, I continue to pick it up in the hopes of finding a writer or story that clicks. Unfortunately, this book proved to be another dud. The story follows a highly talented pickpocket who meets up with an old friend/criminal and gets sucked into a scheme masterminded by a mysterious man. He is made the proverbial offer he can't refuse -- a series of increasingly difficult thefts that he must complete or he will be killed. This could theor ...more
One of my goals for 2017 is to read more Asian translated fiction, a goal that I'm thus far failing at SPECTACULARLY. I've also been in the mood for a ton of thrillers recently, so when I stumbled across this thriller on my local library's Overdrive - a thriller that's set in Japan and has been translated from Japanese - I was instantly sold.

To be honest, I mostly found this...confusing.

Like, you're thrown straight into the action. I think the protagonist's name is mentioned MAYBE once? In pas
Sep 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
It's a fast paced, enjoyable, no-nonsense and economically-written hard boiled thriller/noir.

I really like how the author, Mr. Nakamura wrote about different criminal activities and and how the mind of criminals actually work (to a point that it looks to me like he had soaked himself with criminality to get such intimate knowledge), he made it all seem believable and real. The Thief is a book which can keep you at the edge of your seat, although I have mixed feeling about the ending, still it's
Patrick Sherriff
I'd forced myself a little reluctantly through Nakamura's "Cult X" which at 512 pages was probably 200 pages too long (my review is here:, so I was pleasantly surprised by how good this earlier novel was. To the point, engaging, and staffed with an interesting antihero and believable, surprising plot. The ending was, er, very Japanese, let's say, but what a good noir. Well narrated and translated.

Download my starter library for free here - http://eepurl.
Nancy Oakes
for a longer and much more in-depth review, redirect here.

The Thief is a very good read, intensely satisfying with a great deal of psychological depth to go along with the crime elements of the novel. The central character is a pickpocket named Nishimura (whose name is only stated once) who has sharpened his skills to an elite level over the years to the point where he can easily remove a wallet, sift through its contents and sometimes return it to its owner, all without the victim's knowledge
Nov 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
I must admit to having read very little Japanese crime fiction, but drawn by a cover quote from Natsuo Kirino, the author of the remarkable ‘Out’, I was immediately hooked by this bijou slice of Japanese noir. Centred on the criminal activities of pickpocket, Nishimura, this is a at times shocking, but poignant tale of the seedy underbelly of Tokyo. Nishimura spends his days targeting prosperous looking individuals with his deft pickpocketing skills but then finds himself coerced by a fellow fri ...more
May 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The title character, the thief, is a highly skilled pickpocket who is commissioned, against his will, to carry out three jobs--all of which involve some very delicate picking of pockets, much more complicated than merely lifting wallets--for a crime boss, Kizaki.

If the thief fails, Kizaki will kill him, and the thief has no doubt that Kizaki will follow through.

Kizaki likes to rhapsodize about fate. Is the thief's fate controlled by Kizaki, or is it that the thief is fated to be controlled by Ki
Charles Dee Mitchell
Jun 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crime
Pickpockets make the most appealing anti-heroes. Although I am certain that if my pocket were ever picked I would wish the most draconian measures possible brought to bear on the perpetrator, reading about them or watching them on film is usually fun. The unnamed narrator of Nakamura’s novel has been a thief since childhood, and he is very good at what he does. He once worked as part of a three-man team, which you learn is the best and safest way to go about these crimes; but, after a time out o ...more
May 08, 2012 rated it liked it
One star? Three stars? Five stars? I have no clue, and that about sums up my experience with this book. I landed on three because the book was intruiging and thought-provoking, but I just couldn't connect with it.

Maybe my expectations were too high because of the book's awards, too high because they were inaccurately based on an Americanized version of what "thriller" usually means, or because I read it too fast and should have savored it instead. The book didn't demand that the reader stop and
The Commuting Bookworm
Jun 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

The thief is a seasoned pickpocket, who is questioning his lifestyle, his choices and the consequences of his actions. It is written in the first person narrative all the way through and therefore is easy to follow and read.

At 210 pages this is a small book with a mighty emotional punch. Nakamura slowly builds the readers attachment to the narrator, who although perhaps is behaving against acceptable normalities and living in a way that many of us would find disgra
This was very good...engrossing, well-written yet slight somehow. It felt more like a novella than a novel. Pity that nothing else of Nakamura's--as far as I can tell--has been translated into English. He's a young writer, and it's likely he'll get even better with age. The Thief, which won the Oe prize, has a spare feel to it. A crime novel but the crime--he's an expert pickpocket--is clean, without violence. The thief gets enmeshed in a gang, against his will, but he's sharp-witted as well as ...more
Arnav Gupta
Sep 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Another really good book this year about mystery and this one specifically about pickpocketing and thievery. A really easy book with not a lot of complex themes but definitely an interesting story line. I personally do not like the ending because it is blurred and sudden but overall the book is really good. It does have some inappropriate content about prostitution so be aware of that before you read.
FBC Rv (links there)

INTRODUCTION: The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura, translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates, is a modern crime/thriller novel with philosophical overtones which attracted my attention on two counts. It is written by a Japanese author (see HERE and HERE for two of my recent reviews of Japanese novels and of course 2011's top book of mine was 1Q84) and it is published by Soho Press which just put out the wonderful Andromeda Lax-Romano novel The Detour.

Even so, I hesitated befor
Hafizz Nasri
Totally gripping. I like how Nishimura tells everything about his pickpocket thingy, from A to Z how it was done. And it was nice of him to look after the little boy, minus the part he teaches him how to shoplift and stuff. Warmhearted, that he actually wish the boy won't ended like him in future.

The part of him being recruited for the theft, involving himself with the mobster boss-- I wish he hadn't. Too bad for Ishikawa though.

It was fast paced-- love how it goes. Starting to ending-- a bit of
The Grim Reader
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Much has been written of the talents of Fuminori Nakamura. This is my first read and I now count myself amongst his fans. The book’s title sort of gives away what the story is about…yep, it’s about a thief, a pickpocket actually, one roaming the streets of Tokyo delicately sliding his fingers into the clothes of unsuspecting passers-by, relieving them of their wallets and purses.

Nakamura’s tale is a sublime read. very noir, and very, very good. The prose style is simple and the story is very eas
Gorab Jain
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: z2019, translated
Disappointing read!

Randomly came across this one and thought of trying out a new Japanese author. Blame it on Mr Murakami and recent love affair with Mangas (Death Note, Buddha, Uzumaki, Monster...)

What went wrong?
This guy is a professional pickpocket, addicted to stealing, and goes for multiple targets in a single walk, without even waiting to digest the impact of the previous steal. To an extent that he sometimes doesn't even remember how this wallet landed with him.
The initial pickpocket scen
Apr 06, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2014
Nishimura is a pickpocket, highly skilled and proficient in his chosen crime. In the streets of Tokyo there are few better than him. He is alone with no family and no friends, just his wits and experience to keep him alive.

One day a character from his past finds him. He needs him for a job, and he is not taking no for an answer. This job exposes him to the even darker criminal underbelly of Japan and he finds himself trapped in a intricate web of murder and theft involving the rich and powerful.
Dec 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: con-games, mystery, japan

Tight, understated mystery that does what a lot of mysteries seem incapable of-- staying internally coherent, keeping up intensity while narrowing in on its goals. So much else is really optional if the author can keep the story travelling along as he has launched it, at the right tempo and pitch... Landing at unforseen but inevitable places, moments of brief certainty in an uncertain world.

This is one of those first person stories where the author doesn't quite concede the character (or maybe
Gregor Xane
Jun 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
An almost surreal, almost dreamlike crime fiction tale. A very smooth narrative that goes down easy. This would have been four stars if some of the main character's background would have been fleshed out a bit more. A particular relationship that he develops could have been handled in a more interesting way, as well.
steph // bookplaits
Apr 10, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2020
I very rarely rate books 1 star, because I usually pick up books I’m interested in reading. The only reason I read and finished The Thief (translated from the Japanese by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates) is because it’s for book club, with this month’s genre being crime.

I got the impression that some of my colleagues voted for this one because it’s a short read, which is fair enough, haha. At the very least, I’m glad that I didn’t have to waste much time on this book! I had a feeling I wouldn’t
Andy Weston
Jun 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan, translated, crime
In this wonderful piece of Japanese noir, Nakamura creates a reclusive and very skilful pickpocket who reaches a type of epiphany when he encounters a sex worker drug addict and her neglected young son on the streets of Tokyo. At the same time the thief is persuaded to join a scheme which ends up dealing with the city’s criminal underworld. It’s far from being a traditional mystery, and so much better for it, written with a minimalist style that admirably fits a huge amount into 200 pages.
Nayla Feghaly
Dec 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Have you ever wondered what goes through a thief’s head? What intrigues a pickpocket to slip his hands inside your bag and steal your money? Does a thief have a human kind side? Do you believe in fate? Does fate exist? Can anyone escape fate?

This book is a fast-paced novel, emphasizing the psychological part of pickpocketing. This novel can be easily a biography of a pickpocket. It is very well written, captivating your attention throughout the chapters.

The only disappointing part was the end,
Abbas Fardil
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Um....!...What to say? A brilliant story from Nakamura. An awesome and shocking tale. I can't resist me from giving it 5★.
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His debut novel (The Gun) won the Shinchō New Author Prize in 2002. Also received the Noma Prize for New Writers in 2004 for Shakō [The Shade]. Winner of the Akutagawa Prize in 2005 for Tsuchi no naka no kodomo (Child in the Ground). Suri (Pickpocket) won the Ōe Kenzaburō Prize in 2010. His other works include Sekai no Hate (The Far End of the World), Ōkoku (Kingdom), and Meikyū (Labyrinth).


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“But obviously if there was no concept of ownership there’d be no concept of stealing, would there? As long as there’s one starving child in the world, all property is theft.” 7 likes
“You're a pickpocket right? That's cool. But you don't do it for the money, do you?"
"Maybe the end." I said abruptly.
"The end?"
"What will happen to me in the end. What happens to people who live the way I do? That's what I'd like to know.”
More quotes…