This dystopian thriller takes “murder incorporated” to another level; a smorgasbord of murder, rivalry and revenge. The Plotters draw up the lists of targets, its been that way since the dictatorship but business has expanded under the new democracy. Now assassinations are not only the whim of the dictator, business and the civilian politicians get in on the act. Then there are the names that make the hit list for no discernible reason, of course, the veteran assassins no longer fit for purpose. The Doghouse library is a bureau of assassins for hire, they have rivals, as the hunt for business becomes ever more cut throat a hit-man war is looming – a reckoning!

From page one, The Plotters paints a dismal picture of South Korea, little more than a gangland adventure park. This is an allegorical novel, a vision of a world where the excesses and greed of modern society begin to consume themselves. The self-paved road to hell on earth. The Doghouse library is an extension of the capitalist business plan, as much a tool for the corporate sector as it was for the dictatorship.

The Plotters is a stylish novel; I won’t deny it’s strange, but it is also totally beguiling. Un-su Kim is a natural storyteller, there are flights of fancy, asides and little parables that illuminate, what is essentially, a morality tale. The surreal world of the assassins and plotters and their murderous interaction with the wider community is fun but there is a serious point here too. This is a Kafkaesque vision of society, and like The Trial it works because we recognise reality in the madness. This is a thought-provoking commentary on modern society. This is not Tarantino, The Plotters is a highly literate thriller, both funny and clever.

The Plotters wanders back and forth in time, it is the story of Reseng, assassin. The darkly comic tale begins with the the old man. He is tending his garden and playing with his dog in a remote cottage. Reseng has the old man in his cross hairs, he toys with the idea of pulling the trigger but he relents for now, the time isn’t right. He returns to his tent and settles down for the night. A few hours later he is disturbed by footsteps, the old man with his dog. Reseng claims he is a hunter, true after a fashion, and the old man invites him to the house, does he know what is coming? They chat, the old man is a natural raconteur, they drink whisky. He tells Reseng about the whale that rescued his sailor grandfather only to fall victim to the whaler later on. They sleep, in the morning the old man prepares a breakfast before seeing Reseng off. Back at his tent Reseng watches the old man, his prey, in the garden again with his dog, Santa, this time there is no reprieve. Why? Who was this old man? This is a murder that comes back to haunt Reseng.

Reseng was rescued from an orphanage and raised at the Blackdog library by Old Raccoon, among the books, the assassins, the hired guns and the bounty hunters. at Bear’s Pet Crematorium the bodies of the old man and his dog are incinerated. The assassins receive their jobs from The Plotters, mysterious people hidden in the shadows. The assassins are expendable, Reseng remembers Chu, he broke the rules by letting a young prostitute live, they put a price on his head.

Under the dictatorship Old Raccoon thrived on contract killings. Since the coming of democracy the trade has increased because people are protecting their connections to the dictator, literally burying their secrets and knowledge of their corruption. Then the corporate sector got in on the act, amateurs flood the field, smart executive types have taken Old raccoon’s market share. One of the new breed of entrepreneur assassins is Hanja. As the elections approach the veneer of respectability must be maintained, there are too many killers on the loose. Old Raccoon and Reseng will have to watch their backs.

The Plotters is a satirical novel, its an attack on the complacency and greed of unfettered capitalism, the corruption that blights democracy and the overwhelming influence of companies and governments. It draws uncomfortable parallels between the dictatorship and the same people benefitting from democracy as leaders and business moguls. The library, the plotters and the assassins are a natural consequence of power exercised to the utmost degree, unfettered. Anything is for sale, anything goes if you have the money. Fantastically entertaining but also intelligent, an original take on “murder incorporated”.

Paul Burke 5/4

The Plotters by Un-su Kim
Fourth Estate 9780008315764 hbk Feb 2019