cover image The Old Woman with the Knife

The Old Woman with the Knife

Gu Byeong-Mo, trans. from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim. Hanover Square, $19.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-335-42576-8

At the start of Korean author Byeong-Mo’s English-language debut, a gripping and often unpredictable suspense novel, a 65-year-old woman on a crowded Seoul subway train observes a male jerk, upset at having to stand, berate a seated young woman, even after she says that her pregnancy merits a seat. When he disembarks, the older woman follows and fatally stabs him with a knife coated with poison. It turns out this woman, code-named Hornclaw, works for a company offering “disease control specialists,” who commit murder for paying clients. Hornclaw’s continuing employment is threatened by younger rivals within her company, her declining physical abilities, and a fear that she’s now someone else’s target. A subtle character portrait is matched by striking prose (Hornclaw “sometimes wonders what difference it makes to take away ten or forty-five years from a life, when the essence of life is continuous loss and abrasion that leaves behind only traces of what used to be, like streaks of chalk on a chalkboard”). Crime fiction readers looking for something a bit different will relish this one. Agent: Barbara Zitwer, Barbara J. Zitwer Agency. (Mar.)