Japanese author Haruki Murakami may be known worldwide for novels that straddle the border between the dreamworld and reality.

But in Toronto he's better known as the most popular author among literary thieves, at least according to the city's bookstore owners. 

An entire shelf dedicated to Murakami books disappeared in December at the Roncesvalles store A Good Read. 

"I lost $800 the last two times this guy hit me," owner Gary Kir told CBC Toronto. "They're very easily converted into cash, because they're very high in demand and they don't turn up that often used."

Gary Kirk Owner of A Good Read

Gary Kirk, the owner of A Good Read in Roncesvalles, had his complete collection of Haruki Murakami books stolen twice in December. (Tyna Poulin/CBC News)

The Japanese novelist's best-known works include Norwegian Wood, Sputnik Sweetheart, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and more recently, 1Q84.

And they've all been lifted, Kirk alleges.

"They took my Norwegian Woods, my Sputniks, all of them," Kirk said, adding that he doubts his book thief has ever cracked open a Murakami. 

Japan People Murakami

Haruki Murakami's books have sold millions of copies around the world. (Bernat Armangue/Associated Press)

Murakami is the new Kerouac in terms of stolen authors

Derek McCormack has worked at bookstores in Toronto for 25 years and says the most shoplifted names come and go in waves.

"It used to be all the beats," said McCormack, of Type Books on Queen Street West. "Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Then it became [Vladimir] Nabokov by far — you couldn't keep Lolita on the shelf."

These days he says Murakami's popularity among millennial readers is driving the most recent theft ring. 

"There's like a ton of university students who don't have tons of money and are happy to pay five bucks for a book regardless of where it came from." 

Other used bookstores being blamed for buying stolen books

Both McCormack and Kirk believe there's a black market being fuelled by some of their competitors in the used book scene. Kirk says a stolen Murakami title will be resold to another used bookstore for about $3.

"The more unscrupulous used bookstores will then charge $10 to make a profit," he alleges. 

'These guys are pros; they know what they want and they get the books in large quantity.' - Derek McCormack, Type Books

Book thieves haven't evolved much since McCormack has been in the business, he said. 

"These guys are pros; they know what they want and they get the books in large quantity."

The problem's aggravated by those who McCormack alleges knowingly buy stolen products — when someone comes in trying to sell four or five copies of the same book.  

"There were a couple of used bookstores up on Bloor you could go up to and be guaranteed to find what just left your store," he said. 

Murakami Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Kirk says it doesn't matter the title, a book thief will see it's a Murakami and take it. (CBC News/TYNA POULIN)

Both McCormack and Kirk say police haven't cracked down on book theft.

"I can imagine being a cop and thinking, 'Really? Four copies of a book and this is why I'm here?' But it does trickle down — the more books disappear, the worse your bottom line gets."

​'We know who the guy is'

Kirk circulated pictures of the man he believes to be his book thief and said several other store owners recognized him.

He follows the same routine with them, too, Kirk alleges. The thief will look in the window, wait until it's busy, and then go in and pull an entire shelf of books into a bag. 

Kirk wants other store owners to mark their books, to only deal in credit cards when buying used books in order to create a paper trail, and to mark a book's bought and sold dates inside its covers.

"Then the [real] owners can follow up and know where to go to find them."