(Espionage, Mystery, Thoughtful, Strong Characters)
Grade: Β – Fantastic book within the genre, probably worth reading regardless of which genre’s you like, but has a style or setting that may not appeal to all readers.
I loved this book. After spending ages searching for new and novel mysteries and/or espionage books, I was delighted to come across this great new series. This book follows in the tracks of a North Korean Police Detective with a believability that can only be provided by an intelligence officer who has specialized in Asia.
Written in the first person, the story pulls you through the tangled web of backstabbing, politics and shady deals that is life in Communist North Korea. One immediately sympathizes with Inspector O. He is a sarcastic and jaded detective with open eyes, who sees the realities of his country, but remains dedicated to being a good policeman. In North Korea, however, it’s hard to keep politics as bay, and as the story progresses, the good Inspector finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the darkest dealings of a corrupt regime.
North Korea, Modern day.
Inspector O is ordered to take photographs of a car coming from the South Korean border in the middle of the night. It seems a pointless endeavor, made more so by the fact his camera doesn’t work. It is only later that he realizes that he and his department are being drawn into inter-agency rivalries; a deadly game in the North. Soon, a body turns up in the Koryo Hotel, one of the few places foreigners are allowed to stay. What follows is tale that drags the Inspector (and pulls the reader) into shadowy world of North Korean politics.
For a first novel, this is really fantastic (in fact, for a tenth novel it’s pretty darned good). It manages to both stand alone and set up a series that I intend to follow closely. There are no cheap mystery writer tricks (you know the kind, leave out a crucial piece of information, or better yet, have the viewpoint character tell another character on a piece of paper but not tell the reader), but I remained turning the pages regardless.
Church has managed to create a character with whom any westerner can sympathize, but who also has the good of his homeland at heart. The eponymous Inspector O, is a sarcastic yet affable man with a realistic view of his countries problems and mouth that is doomed to land him in trouble. Throughout the story, he manages to just skirt the line that will end his career, and perhaps his life, endearing him to the reader. The second book, Hidden Moon is sitting on my shelf already.
So why, you ask, does it get a Beta rating? After all, it speaks to world events, I enjoyed the language and kept me gripped throughout. So why not a Alpha? Well, truth be told, its ending is a tiny bit flat. Very realistic mind you, but I didn’t exactly get a total sense of closure when I was done.
Having said that, I will note this was Church’s first novel, and I already see him as the logical heir to John LeCarré’s throne. If you like mysteries, espionage or want to get a glimpse into life in North Korea, buy this book. In fact, I would recommend this book to anyone regardless of the genres they enjoy.