‘The Plotters’ by Un-Su Kim: The alienation of the assassin

A violent world of contract killers with a lonely, conflicted soul at the centre

Published - March 16, 2019 04:00 pm IST

Kill Bill meets Murakami” boasts a blurb on the cover of South Korean novelist Un-Su Kim’s The Plotters . It is not an empty boast. The plot premise seems like a joint venture between Quentin Tarantino and Haruki Murakami. Like Kill Bill , it’s about a syndicate that runs an assassination squad. But in a twist typical of Murakami, this syndicate is run from a library named ‘Doghouse’ in the heart of Seoul.

The violent world of assassins and contract killers conjured in Kim’s novel differs from the comic-book savagery of Tarantino in two respects: first, the assassins, though as deadly and ruthless as Kill Bill ’s Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, are far from superheroes. Instead, they are shown to be skilled wage-labourers, compelled by lack of opportunity to take up killing for a price.

Second, the real power in this underworld lies not with the assassins but with the bureaucracy that gets the contract from high-ranking officials in the government or corporate sector, draws up a foolproof plan, assigns tasks to assorted functionaries, fixers, trackers, informers, and so on down the chain of command. The assassin is to the syndicate what the bike-borne delivery boy is to Amazon or Flipkart: he merely delivers death to the addressee as per the prescribed order.

The protagonist of The Plotters , Reseng, is an orphan boy brought up by Old Raccoon, the gangster-librarian. But unlike the Bride in Kill Bill , whose singular motivation is revenge, Reseng is a lonely, conflicted soul struggling to deal with the psychological toll extracted by his profession.

Kim’s evocative portrayal of the sense of alienation induced by the opaque, Kafkaesque bureaucracy — the eponymous ‘plotters’ — which uses and discards proletarian killers like so many machine parts, lends this thriller a surreal mystique reminiscent of one of those elliptical Murakami narratives.

And in an obvious nod to Murakami, Reseng’s only real attachments are to his two cats, and they are called Desk and Lampshade. If you’ve ever fantasised about leading a double life where you are a bestselling literary novelist by day and a deadly assassin by night, this is the perfect read for you.


The Plotters; Un-Su Kim, trs Sora Kim-Russell, Fourth Estate, ₹599

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