Last year Adam Johnson, author of the tremendous novel The Orphan Master’s Son wrote us a great post on his experiences in North Korea, including a peek at what passes for a library there. If you’re among the growing number of people watching the startling developments with this mysterious nation with concerned fascination, you owe it to yourself to read his post and read his stunning and well-researched book. And whether or not you’re a mystery fan, you may also find a pair of fine series draw you deep into the harsh and surreal realities of life and death in the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the Demilitarized Zone that so profoundly separates it from the western world.
James Church’s droll protagonist Inspector O doggedly works to bring malefactors to justice – if one could call it justice amidst totalitarian topsy-turvydom – but his most admirable skill may be outlasting or outmaneuvering the misinformation, disinformation, and bizarre logic world’s most staggeringly absurd bureaucratic circus. This consistently outstanding series begins with A Corpse in the Koryo and winds through four more titles. The latest title, A Drop of Chinese Blood introduces O’s nephew Major Bing, working just over the border in China, adding even more Byzantine layers of complexity to the taut international investigation into the disappearance of Madam Fang, “the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Martin Limón’s series featuring U.S. Army investigators George Sueno and Ernie Bascom takes place in South Korea during the 1970s, from the seedy streets of Seoul to the tense no-man’s-land of the DMZ, delving into the clash of cultures and the political tensions on the bleeding edge of American empire at a time when the foundations for North Korea’s repressive closed-off state were being layed, with our help. The series begins with Jade Lady Burning, and the recent The Joy Brigade, eighth in the series, sends the duo over the border – or under it via a network of ancient tunnels – into North Korea in an attempt to foil a mounting secret invasion of the South that could forever change the face of East Asia: one can only imagine what might have happened if it had succeeded.