In Toronto, shoplifters are taking Murakami novels by the shelf load – showing up the UK’s lowbrow black market

They have a better class of book thief in Toronto. Whereas in the UK, Potters Harry and Beatrix, as well as travel guides, top the list of titles most likely to be stolen from bookshops, thieves working the aisles in the Canadian city are targeting Haruki Murakami’s work.

One bookseller said he was C$800 (£500) lighter after a shoplifting spree that cleared an entire shelf of the Japanese author’s work from his shop. “They took my Norwegian Woods, my Sputniks, all of them,” lamented Gary Kirk of the A Good Read Bookshop, telling broadcaster CBC Toronto that he doubted the thief had ever cracked open a Murakami.

In the UK, though the Booksellers Association keeps no records about “shrinkage” – as it quaintly refers to shoplifting – it appears shoplifters (shrinkers?) browsing its members’ shelves have less highbrow tastes. Philip Downer, former head of Borders UK and managing director of Calliope Gifts told the Guardian that thieves targeted “big brands – Harry Potter, Peppa Pig – where the thief can take a pile of the same title with an easy guarantee of being able to shift the goods.”

Like all the best capitalists, thieves operate on demand-led principles. If they can’t shift it, they won’t nick it. So rather than Murakami, the books you’ll be offered by a bloke down the pub won’t be Paul Beatty’s Booker-winning The Sellout, but Joe Wicks’s Body Coach as well as the boy wizard and his mates.

That said, Wicks’s musclebound tomes may be too much for bookish kleptomaniacs because, to misuse a cliche, when it comes to stealing, size matters. According to Tony Higginson of Formby Books, this is why Beatrix Potter proved popular with light-fingered customers in his shop. “The books are small and nice and easy to re-sell,” he said.

But am I alone in feeling a bit embarrassed that our thieves can’t raise the bar a bit?…

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