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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times Editors' Choice Pick

A Most Anticipated Read in LitHub, CrimeReads, Thrillist, and Popsugar

The kinetic story of a sixty-five-year-old female assassin who faces an unexpected threat in the twilight of her career—this is an international bestseller and the English language debut from an award-winning South Korean author 

At sixty-five, Hornclaw is beginning to slow down. She lives modestly in a small apartment, with only her aging dog, a rescue named Deadweight, to keep her company. There are expectations for people her age—that she'll retire and live out the rest of her days quietly. But Hornclaw is not like other people. She is an assassin.

Double-crossers, corporate enemies, cheating spouses—for the past four decades, Hornclaw has killed them all with ruthless efficiency, and the less she's known about her targets, the better. But now, nearing the end of her career, she has just slipped up. An injury leads her to an unexpected connection with a doctor and his family. But emotions, for an assassin, are a dangerous proposition. As Hornclaw's world closes in, this final chapter in her career may also mark her own bloody end.

A sensation in South Korea, and now translated into English for the first time by Chi-Young Kim, The Old Woman with the Knife is an electrifying, singular, mordantly funny novel about the expectations imposed on aging bodies and the dramatic ways in which one woman chooses to reclaim her agency.

©2022 Gu Byeong-mo (P)2022 Harlequin Enterprises, Limited

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What listeners say about The Old Woman with the Knife

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best geriatric assassin EVER!

“The Old Woman With the Knife” by Gu Byeong-mo and translated by Chi-Young Kim is a clever Korean novel about an aging assassin. Hornclaw, is a “model senior citizen, wholesome and refined”, and is introduced to the reader as she enters the subway. Hornclaw does not look like a typical killer, as she reads her large print pocket-size Bible. Yet she’s a stealthy killer, well, she was.

This is a very clever story. She’s considering retiring given her aging body. After she suffers an injury, she sees her doctor, who provides a blind eye to her odd and numerous work-related injuries. This is a fun, and at times almost whimsical story about an aging female assassin who struggles with acknowledging she is past her prime.

Hornclaw has worked for her agency for 45 years as a “disease control specialist”. She’s adept at her poisoned knife, killing quickly and efficiently. Yet she suffers from dismissive if not contemptuous fellow workers highlighting Korean’s attitude towards the aging work force. One fellow assassin, Bullfight, refers to her as “granny” would love to “make her go away”. Hornclaw’s attitude towards her employer is weary as she wants to retire yet the economic reality of her pensioned life leaves her concerned.

She gains additional concern when she notices someone is sabotaging her work.

Hornclaw is my favorite geriatric female assassin. She’s quirky and likable even though she’s a killer. I enjoyed her workforce drudgery. She’s irascible and just wants to enjoy a quiet retirement. However, someone seems to be in her way.

Beyond reading about a quirky main character, the story provides a glimpse into life in South Korea. Translator Chi-Young Kim does a fantastic job with this work. Nancy Wu narrates the audio, and she also does a fantastic job.

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South Korean culture beyond Kpop

Great story, though American readers may occasionally find the protagonist hard to relate to culturally. Approach the book with the same latitude you'd have for a 19th century novel in terms of feminism and whatnot and you'll enjoy it more. I liked it, but I was aware of Korean cultural standards for how women and older women in particular are meant to act. It actually makes sense that this battle hardened assassin would be incredibly reluctant to get a manicure, or allow someone to see her in a state of undress. For all her subversiveness she's still very much relatable in that context. For all of its breathtaking modernity and technological advancement, its cultural power and production - South Korea remains for now a place where women exercise power in carefully coded and compartmented ways.

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Pitiful book

If I could I would give it 1/2 of a star!! Don’t waste your time. And Audible won’t let me return it and get my credit back!!

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A fun riff on "Grosse Pointe Blank"

If you're familiar with the movie "Grosse Pointe Blank," you'll recognize this story. The book is a refreshing twist on your run-of-the-mill action and adventure stories. I really enjoyed the main character and hope there are more stories such as this coming our way from this author. The writing was efficient with backstory, avoiding long, stationary descriptions that can stall a good story. The translation was a little weird in the dialogue. While the story's third-person narration came through naturally, when the characters spoke to one another it was a little off, amusingly so. For example, two contract killers face off threatening to kill each other One asks, "What are your goals here?" I think an interpretation would have worked much better than a strict translation in the dialogue. But that's a minor criticism of a story I thoroughly enjoyed.