No. 1 With a Bullet: Un-Su Kim’s The Plotters

Reading Un-Su Kim’s The Plotters, I really thought there’d be more assassinations. The book, which was originally released in 2010 and eventually translated into English in 2019, tracks the adventures of Reseng, a contract killer. Abandoned by his parents and raised by an assassin, Reseng falls into a life of murder and though he commits the act coldly and cleanly, he doesn’t do much of it between the covers of The Plotters.

This is not a complaint.

Rather than the brutality that drives its sometimes wobbly plot, The Plotters spends most of its time, and is at its best, focusing on the philosophical musings of its characters. An extended metaphor comparing assassins to prostitutes—they both sell their bodies, you see—feels a little on the nose, but setting the contract killers’ base within a literal library opens up all kinds of avenues for digression and examination. Kim makes good use of the opportunity, digging into the motivations and desires of his characters so that most of them come to feel three-dimensional in odd and unexpected ways.

The main exception to that depth is Reseng himself who is one my my least favorite tropes: the incredibly handsome, exceptionally talented, deeply intellection loner who doesn’t realize that he’s incredibly handsome, exceptionally talented or deeply intellectual. But Reseng is an outlier in The Plotters. Like the balance of its characters, The Plotters is not quite what it seems like it’s going to be but, like those same characters, it’s quirky and enjoyable in its own way, even if it never quite delivers the shot of resolution I was hoping for.

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