Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Hornclaw is an experienced assassin. Hornclaw is also a woman getting on in life. Things might hurt a bit more than they used to, but old ladies are invisible, no one gives them a second thought. Perfect attributes for someone looking to get away with murder.

But not everyone at the agency agrees. One young upstart is giving her grief. What is his problem with her? Is he just ageist or does he have a grudge to bear?

She remembered how she used to be treated skeptically when she was younger, just because she was a woman. Now her age is just another reason for people to dismiss her on sight.

From the first page, I was immediately transported a crammed commuter train, taking me right back to the Before Times, albeit with more murder. An odd, and at times sad book with a unique main character.

Not a particularly sentimental person, Hornclaw has nevertheless befriended a stray dog, and named her Deadweight. The dog gives her purpose, and has maybe melted something in her hard exterior.

Perhaps, on her way home from a job — though she was used to the repetitive nature of her work, she had still extinguished a life — she was overtaken by an urge that prodded her amygdala with the premonition that if she didn’t take this dog home, there would be trouble in the future.

The Old Woman With the Knife is less a thriller and more a meditation on the attitudes to older women in Korea, and of course much of this applies elsewhere. For example, she wants to keep in shape, but going to the gym attracts attention, people either want to tell her how inspiring she is or they are just shocked at an old woman lifting weights. There are gyms for old people, but she’s not ready to be like them.

There’s a bit of a mystery, but overall I just enjoyed hanging out with Hornclaw and learning about life as an assassin.

Everything eventually succumbs to erosion, including the soul. Everything ruptures; possibilities, like aging bodies, wither.

Gu Byeong-mo is an award-winning Korean writer. The Old Woman With the Knife has been translated into English by Chi-Young Kim and will be published by Canongate in the UK, with paperback and ebook editions available from 3rd March 2022. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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