The Man with the Baltic Stare, James Church (Minotaur Books, 2010)

Grade: Β — Fantastic book within the genre, probably worth reading regardless of which genre’s you like, but has a setting or style that may not appeal to individuals who are not fans of a given genre. In brief: The Man with the Baltic Stare is James Church’s fourth and probably last installment in the brilliant and innovative Inspector O series. Set in the crumbling economy and politics ofNorth Korea, it seems that this time O really may have met his match. The most mystery like of the series so far, it also is Church’s best effort to date in giving us real insight into the North Korean mindset. A must read for any fan of the series, and a great read for anyone else. Setting: Modern DayNorth Koreaand Macau, People’s Republic ofChina. Actually, it is set slightly in the future, but only for setting and plot reasons – there is no evidence of Science Fiction or Futurism involved. In Depth: The Man with the Baltic Stare really does look like it’s the last installment in the brilliant Inspector O series. That saddens me because I feel there is so much more that can be done with our intrepid hero and the brilliant setting ofNorth Korea. Still, four books into it, one can see why Church may want to call it, particularly after this book. In it (and the other novels in this series) we are given a wonderful insight into the mindset of a patriotic North Korean who knows his system is corrupt. The story begins with O living in shack in a quasi-self-imposed-exile on top of a mountain in the middle-of-nowhereNorth Korea. Well past middle age, he finds his self-described ‘retirement’ interrupted when the powers-that-be pull him back to Pyongyang in order to investigate a murder and the disappearance of a not-to-be-named person… both of which occurred in Macau (China). When he arrives back to his nation’s capital, he finds more has changed than he could possibly imagine, making the politics even more treacherous than before. This is a great story, a good mystery and a brilliant espionage novel. Not only does it have a greatly involving central plot, but it really portrays the dilemma of the North Koreans in a manner that one just can’t get out of news coverage or non-fiction. It brings to life the mindset of a nationalistic man who knows the faults of his own country in a manner that only the best fiction can. Church never cops out with O, never makes him have an “Oh the west is right,” “I buy into the system” nor any other cheesy simplistic answer. O is true to himself from the start of the series to the end of this book, and it fills me with wonder. For anyone who likes espionage, mysteries, this is a great book and a better series.

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About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Crime Thriller, Espionage, Identity, Mystery, Political Drama, Post Modern, Series, Spy Thriller, Strong Characters, Thoughtful, Uncategorized, Unique or Imaginative World and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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