Monday, January 31, 2011
Bamboo and Blood by James Church
James Church's series of North Korean Police Detective Inspector O is something of an anomoly in the world of detective fiction. Here we have a keen-eyed detective whose field of expertise is not so much citizen-on-citizen violence as government-on-citizen violence. While Inspector O is a patriot of uncommon fidelity, the angle from which we view his mind working is not so much internal as external. We, facilitated by the author Church, are watching Inspector O make decisions and we are making an analysis. We are foreign agents--we are being taught to be foreign agents--in this series written by a foreign agent. We are being shown what to look for, and this is latest edition, we are even being taught tradecraft. Wacky tradecraft, but there you have it.
I like Inspector O very much. The author has a depth of compassion for him and his close compatriots that helps us to imagine them with a depth of character and a degree of humanity. We know so little about North Korea, every bit of description helps us "to put flesh on the bones", so to speak. And if even a portion of the descripton given us here of that woe-begone country is true, North Korea and its people are in a world of hurt.
I especially liked this third book in the series because Inspector O was given his head and allowed to travel overseas. He was quite witty when describing Geneva and New York, the "talks" going on there, and the spymasters he encountered. Much of the best parts of this book consisted of conversation rather than description, so Church is taking a unique jog in the business of series writing and engaging the reader in a way different from others writing detective series. Church's method is more cerebral, and less kinetic, the characters more likely to suffer psychological damage than physical. Approach this with an open mind, and I believe you will be amused, but will also have plenty of food for thought.