Soho Crime, 2010
Seoul, South Korea, is one of the more exotic locales for a murder mystery, and the C.I.D operatives, Sgts. Sueno and Bascom, are two of the more different protagonists around. This is the sixth entry in the series, but the first this reader has undertaken.
The setting is not only Seoul, but Itaewon, the red-light district, ruled by the Seven Dragons, a mafia-like group born during the Korean Conflict and following the truce in 1953, where they ran all the night clubs, prostitution and other enticements for the 50,000 American troops stationed there. The heart of the plot is a simple one: Sueno and Bascom undertake to find the bones of a “sainted” soldier who played a key role in rebuilding the district after the war before he was murdered, presumably by the Seven Dragons.
All other side issues seem irrelevant, but take up space and time, as the dynamic duo wander around, from time to time attempting to accomplish their main purpose. It is a perfectly acceptable “police procedural,” however it seems at times to drag on and on. That said, much of the writing and observations about military life are pungent, oft-times witty, and the novel is recommended.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2011.
The Devotion of Suspect X
Minotaur Books, 2011
Cleverly pitting the logic of a mathematician against that of a physicist, and then the physicist vs. an intuition-leaning detective, this Japanese novelist has written a clever murder mystery with an innovative ending.
There is no mystery as to the murderer: A single mother, aided by her daughter, strangles her abusive ex-husband. What then follows provides us with a chess match between her next door neighbor, a mathematician, who undertakes to create a scenario to provide the two women with iron-clad alibis, and a detective and his logic-leaning physicist friend, who analyzes each possible clue. It is an interesting technique, and one that works well.
This is the author’s first major English publication (he is a big seller in Japan, where more than 2 million copies of the book have been sold), and the translation seems to have been made with the formality of the original language in mind. “Devotion” won the Naoki Prize for Best Novel, the Japanese equivalent of the National Book Award. Deservedly. And it is, here, heartily recommended.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2011.
Soho Press, 2011
Four subplots coalesce in this second novel featuring Jade de Jong, the South African PI who makes her home in Jo’burg, where it all comes together. However, the story begins in Great Britain, where a Scotland Yard raid on a brothel finds six victims of kidnapping later forced into prostitution. Unfortunately, the brothel owner is not present as expected, and remains at large, and the manager escapes as well, setting off a manhunt for the two.
At the same time, Jade is retained by the wife of the proprietor of an “upscale” strip joint called Heads and Tails as a bodyguard when her spouse goes missing. And the woman also wants Jade to protect her daughter, who manages one of the clubs. This draws Jade into a series of situations involving the human trafficking scheme.
There is some violence in the novel, especially with Jade’s predilection for committing murder, but it is relatively unobtrusive. The writing is vivid, and the character development solid. The plot moves forward at a steady and interesting pace, so that the novel is an excellent follow-up to Random Violence, its predecessor in the series. Recommended.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.