Book Review: The Ville Rat by Martin Limon

the-ville-ratThe Ville Rat
A Sergeants Sueno and Bascom Mystery #10
Martin Limon
Soho Crime, June 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61695-391-1
Trade Paperback

When the body of a beautiful Korean woman washes up on the shore of a frozen river, it sets off an investigation that carries Ernie Vascom and George Sueno, two irreverent 8th Army CID agents, into areas far afield from just a murder inquiry.  The event takes place during 1974 in South Korea, not far from the DMZ.  Not only do they have to fight higher-ups in the chain of command, but must determine the motive for the killing.

Despite the fact that Pres. Harry S Truman “desegregated” the armed forces years before, the novel graphically portrays how black and white soldiers maintained their separate ways when off duty, convening in all Black or all-White bars for recreation. And in the midst of this enters the Ville Rat, the so-called nickname of a former GI who caters to the Black bars by supplying Colt 45 favored by the Blacks because of its higher alcohol content.  The Ville Rat holds a key clue to the investigation and Ernie and George desperately try to find the illusive person to solve the case.

As a police procedural, the novel is juxtaposed between a detailed investigation and the seamier side of Army politics and Korean night life.  The Ville Rat is the 10th novel in the series, each reflecting the author’s deep knowledge of the Korean people and culture, much less of the army and its officers.  This newest entry is no exception, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2016.

Book Reviews: Fatal Feast by Jay Ruud and The Iron Sickle by Martin Limon

Fatal FeastFatal Feast
A Merlin Mystery
Jay Ruud
Five Star, January 2015
ISBN 978-1-4328-2987-2
Hardcover

Author Jay Rudd gives the reader a different twist in this tale of murder and revenge. Set in Camelot, at King Arthur’s court, Queen Guenivere appears to have poisoned one of her dinner guests. But why would the queen do such a thing? How did she manage it? It doesn’t make sense, yet with the accusation made Guenivere faces death by burning if found guilty.

King Arthur hands Gildas, the queen’s young page, the job of rousting Merlin the magician out of his cave to get to the bottom of things. “Prove the queen’s innocence,” he says.

Together, Merlin and Gildas have their work cut out for them in clearing the queen’s name before it’s too late. You see, finding a champion to defend Guenivere’s honor is a thankless task indeed. Ruthless retribution hides under the guise of courtly manners and false loyalties as the two detectives suspect everyone at the table at one time or another.

A fine twist towards the end makes sense of a plot that sometimes seems a little confusing. Many of the characters have similar names, making it hard to keep track of how they all figure in the case. A welcome dash of humor brings the characters, especially Gildas, to life. Anachronisms scattered here and there actually add to the story.

The queen? Well, Guenivere is the stuff of legend, is she not?

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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The Iron SickleThe Iron Sickle
A Sueno and Bascom Investigation #9
Martin Limon
Soho Crime, June 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61695-568-7
Trade Paperback

Twenty years after the truce brought hostilities to an end on the Korean peninsula, the head of the 8th United States Army Claims Office in Seoul is murdered when a Korean man slices his throat with a small iron sickle, bringing in CID agents George Sueno and Ernie Bascom to investigate.  The two have demonstrated in previous novels that they irreverently disobey orders but somehow achieve results.

In this case, they are stonewalled by both the Americans and Koreans, both of whom apparently do not wish the two to solve it.  It seems there is a dirty secret buried and the agents have to steal clues to guide their investigation.

The author’s novels ring with authenticity gained from firsthand knowledge.  He served 20 years in the Army, ten of them in Korea.  As a result, the sights and sounds provide the reader with the real flavor of the city, the taste of foods, the nights filled with bars, drinks and sex.  And, more important, the rigidness of the Army bureaucracy.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2015.

Book Reviews: G.I. Bones by Martin Limon, The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, and Stolen Lives by Jassy MacKenzie

G.I. Bones
Martin Limon
Soho Crime, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-56947-863-9
Trade Paperback

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.

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The Devotion of Suspect X
Keigo Higashino
Minotaur Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-37506-5
Hardcover

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.

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Stolen Lives
Jassy Mackenzie
Soho Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-909-4
Hardcover

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.