The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Murder by design: 'The Consultant' examines dark side of corporate restructuring

Dagger-shortlisted novel follows anonymous narrator masterminding perfect murders

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : July 3, 2024 - 18:35

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Im Seong-sun (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) Im Seong-sun (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

The man is very good at his “job” -- crafting simple, elegant and effective solutions for “restructuring.”

Not so obvious or messy, certainly nothing anyone would ever suspect as murder. The natural deaths he plans have always gone well: a medicine swapped here, a mechanism jammed there.

But when his next assignment turns out to be someone he not only knows but cares about, he begins to question the role he plays in the vast, anonymous Company.

This is the gripping plot of Im Seong-sun's crime thriller "The Consultant," translated by An Seon-jae (also known as Brother Anthony), following an anonymous narrator who scripts scenarios and orchestrates seemingly natural deaths.

Darkly humorous and satirical, the novel has been shortlisted for the crime fiction in translation category at the 2024 Crime Writers' Association Dagger awards. Winners will be announced on Thursday in the UK.

The English edition (left) and Korean edition of The English edition (left) and Korean edition of "The Consultant" (Raven Books, EunHaengNaMu Publishing)

“The story was written as a thriller but really it examines how society treats its members,” said Im in an interview with The Korea Herald, last week.

Im said the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008 that led to a global financial crisis was the direct inspiration for the book.

"The following year, in 2009-10, we saw extensive company restructuring, protests and slogans. And I saw one of the slogans that said -- 'Restructuring is murder.' It meant if you lose your job, you have no way to make a living. But thought, ‘What if it was really murder?’”

Im said it was his intention to create a protagonist who feels like an ordinary office worker tasked with overseeing corporate restructuring within a company.

“The people in charge of restructuring don't know much about the repercussions of restructuring. So, as the story goes, the consultant also slowly realizes what is actually happening after he writes the script (for murder).”

Reflecting on the period 2008-2010, Im pondered, why call it restructuring? "The company structure remains the same; it’s only the workers getting moved," he said.

Im Seong-sun speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald, in Seoul, Friday. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) Im Seong-sun speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald, in Seoul, Friday. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Originally published in Korean in 2010, “The Consultant” is Im’s first novel translated into English. It was released in November by Raven Books, an imprint of Bloomsbury. The book has been translated or is scheduled to be released into multiple languages, including Spanish, Japanese, Arabic, Turkish, Russian and Estonian.

"Frankly, I was quite surprised because the book was written so long ago. It's an honor and a joy to be nominated for such a prestigious award, and that the message of the book still holds valid meaning. It still feels surreal,” said Im.

The writer reflected on the book's significance as the book launched his career as a writer, winning the Segye Literary Prize organized by Segye Ilbo, a Korean daily.

“There was a time when nothing worked out for me. I wasn’t doing well in any direction. I had about a month of free time, so I thought why not write something I really wanted to write? And that was ‘The Consultant.’”

Im continues to be prolific, releasing one or two works of various genres every year or two.

"Fortunately, I just have a lot of ideas that I want to write about,” he said.

Im is working on his next full-length novel, a fantasy romance that centers on a man who receives an email from a childhood friend who has passed away.