A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Meet Sergeants George Sueño and Ernie Bascom in their first investigation, set in 1970s South Korea
Almost twenty years after the end of the Korean War, the US Military is still present throughout South Korea, and tensions run high. Koreans look for any opportunity to hate the soldiers who drink at their bars and carouse with their women. When Pak Ok-suk, a young Korean woman, is found brutally murdered in a torched apartment in the Itaewon red-light district of Seoul, it looks like it might be the work of her American soldier boyfriend. Sergeants George Sueño and Ernie Bascom, Military Police for the US 8th Army, are assigned to the case, but they have nothing to go on other than a tenuous connection to an infamous prostitute. As repressed resentments erupt around them, the pair sets out on an increasingly dangerous quest to find evidence that will exonerate their countryman.
A dense wallow in the sleazy, labyrinthine decadence of Vietnam War-era Seoul, South Korea, in the company of army investigators Ernie Bascom and George Sueno gives this debut mystery a unique atmosphere. Unfortunately Limon, himself a U.S. Army veteran who served in Korea for 10 years, moves his narrative forward at a strangely leisurely pace. The two barely moral sleuths trudge through an endless succession of dark bars, propositioning or being propositioned by the local business girls (the negotiations lead to deals on several occasions), all the while asking questions about the brutal murder of Miss Pak 0k-suk. Limon renders an unforgettable setting and a nasty killing into which the local authorities and military bigshots seem reluctant to pry, gives us a patsy in the shape of the victim's seared GI fianee and creates sympathy for Kimiko, an older local woman who is trying to survive in a young girl's market. But the plot lags, and Limon underutilizes Bascom, whose innocent-looking puss conceals a classic crime-fiction psychotic. A mixed-bag first effort, with an evocative setting and a sluggish pace.