Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Man with the Baltic Stare by James Church

The Man with the Baltic Stare

This is my first time listening to the audio of this series. I am a great fan of Inspector O, and of James Church for imagining this character and his life. It is a truly unique mystery/spy series set in North Korea in the same way that Colin Cotterill’s Di. Siri Paiboun series takes a look at Laos in a different way. The fact that an old man is the center of each of these series gives the reader a long-range perspective and their sense of humor and justice. A young man would be confused and probably angry in countries as difficult to navigate as North Korea and Laos, so an older man has much to offer in terms of philosophy and history.

Part of the wonder of these series is the fact that they are each set in a remote locale in terms of international and social relations. We wonder, but can’t know much about how the populace lives and thinks. The joy of discovering familiar human wants and needs in a culture so distant is remarkably refreshing and reassuring. It makes us laugh all the harder at jokes poking fun at their own national idiosyncracies…after all, aren’t they letting us in on the joke? Of course, each of these books is written by a foreigner (American, British), but that must make it more accessible for those of us who will never travel to these places. The authors have a good sense of the contradictions and frustrations that us outsiders tend to find overwhelming, and reassure us that citizens of these countries also find these things confusing. They just find ways to carry on their lives in spite of the difficulties.

So, because I like the series so much, I am awfully disappointed in Blackstone Audio for not looking harder for an appropriate voice for the series. I’m sure Feodor Chin is a nice person and all that, but making the voice of a 70+ year old Korean spy sound like a 40-something American private eye from the 70s is really a distraction. His hearty voice bats slang with such American maleness that one cannot ignore any longer that this is just an old American spy writing in the voice of a Korean agent. When reading by oneself, a reader might ignore little inconsistencies and put one’s imagination to good use, but never does a reader comes to this series expecting an American private eye or point of view. Trying to make this series sound like a pulp mystery churned out annually by the chart-topping blockbuster novelists is a mistake…nay, a crime.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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