Monday, October 05, 2015

Worth Fighting For, in THE VILLE RAT, Martin Limón

One look, and the two crime investigators commit themselves to finding the young woman's killer. Yes, George Sueño and Ernie Bascom are tough members of the 8th U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division in Seoul, in 1974 -- they've seen a lot of the underside of the occupied city and its surroundings, in South Korea and the DMZ (and sometimes they've crossed the line to the sadder half of the divided nation). But a beautiful Korean woman in traditional feminine clothing, clearly murdered and discarded at a frozen river, gets the guys worked up.

The 11th in Martin Limón's passionate crime series may be the clearest yet in showing what George and Ernie treasure in Korea, from its women to its people of honor and to their counterpart on the Korean National Police side of things, Inspector Gil Kwon-up, better known as Mr. Kill. So when a black-market scheme with American backing turns out to be linked to multiple deaths, and to abuse of an even younger woman, maybe a teen, kidnapped into sexual servitude, the investigative partners refuse to back off.

And they've got plenty of reason to keep pushing on the entwined cases, as Mr. Kill wants them to handle the military aspects, where he can't use his own men -- and a scrawny Caucasian, apparently former military himself, and known only as the Ville Rat, flags them down near the scene of a crime:
"I had to stop you," the man said, breathless. His voice was hurried. Green eyes darted from side to side. "He shouldn't have done it," he said.

"Who?" I asked.

It was as if he hadn't heard me.

"She just wanted her freedom, that's all."

"Who are you talking about?" I shouted.
But when Ernie switches off the engine and the two try to catch up with their unexpected informant, he runs deftly away from them, calling back, "You were almost there!"

The two actually have a lot of miles to cover, and a lot of bars in which to ask about the mysterious shipments they realize are taking place there, before the pieces start to come together. They even need to rely on Strange -- that is, Harvey, an informant inside the military, to figure out what's up.

It turns out that two generals of different divisions are using George and Ernie against each other, and it looks like they'll be crushed in a rat trap within the military if they keep in pursuit of the criminals. But, did I already mention they can't let go of this one?

Limón always spins a good tale, full of details of Korean life and culture, as well as the passions of the men who've been drawn to its exploration. This is one of the best -- with a swift pace, great twists of action and revelation, and a heartfelt sweetness interwoven with the fierce chases and escapades.

Sure, you can read this one without the other 10 -- and it will be a good introduction to Limón's series. Then pick up the others, each with a very different approach. This is one of my faves among the international crime series that Soho Crime is publishing, and I look forward to re-reading them all over the winter. Worth every page!

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