Review: The Corpse in the Koryo by James Church

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CorpseintheKoryoThe Corpse in the Koryo by James Church (Minotaur, 2006)

Blurb: Against the backdrop of a totalitarian North Korea , one man unwillingly uncovers the truth behind series of murders, and wagers his life in the process.

Sit on a quiet hillside at dawn among the wildflowers; take a picture of a car coming up a deserted highway from the south. Simple orders for Inspector O, until he realizes they have led him far, far off his department’s turf and into a maelstrom of betrayal and death. North Korea’s leaders are desperate to hunt down and eliminate anyone who knows too much about a series of decades-old kidnappings and murders—and Inspector O discovers too late he has been sent into the chaos.

This is a world where nothing works as it should, where the crimes of the past haunt the present, and where even the shadows are real. A corpse in Pyongyang’s main hotel—the Koryo—pulls Inspector O into a confrontation of bad choices between the devils he knows and those he doesn’t want to meet. A blue button on the floor of a hotel closet, an ice blue Finnish lake, and desperate efforts by the North Korean leadership set Inspector O on a journey to the edge of a reality he almost can’t survive.

This is a wonderful book. The author was an intelligence officer, and his characterization of North Korea is amazing. His Inspector O takes the shortages and paranoia in stride–although he does long for a cup of tea–and combines them with a deep love of North Korean culture. The lines of poetry at the start of each section are beautiful.

The mystery that Inspector O is called upon to solve is not really the story here, which is as it should be. As Inspector O mentions, “what you see is what you get” has no meaning in North Korea. There’s an entire hidden dimension to every interaction, no matter how seemingly ordinary, and even the simplest task is complicated by political and social implications. “Justice” as we know it is an illusion.

I definitely want to keep reading this series.

My rating: 4 stars

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