Monday, July 02, 2012

Martin Limón's Newest Korean DMZ Police Procedural: THE JOY BRIGADE

Actually, no, it's not a police procedural after all. And that's why THE JOY BRIGADE didn't suit my taste as much as the seven books that preceded it, which featured Sergeant George Sueño and his buddy Ernie Bascom, working for the U.S. Army in Korea's demilitarized zone (DMZ) in the scary 1970s, solving crime and doing their bit to ensure some kind of justice for the Koreans around them.

But Ernie doesn't show up until the closing of this one -- and the action during the rest of the book requires a substantial amount of patience and suspension of disbelief, as Sueño works his way into a North Korean splinter group while also trying to catch up with his beloved, Doc Yong, who -- he is pretty sure -- has given birth to a baby. Their baby. His son. Along the way, he ties his fate to that of -- well, this person:
His name was Hero Kang. He showed me the photograph hanging from his neck. It was framed in varnished wood and showed a much younger version of himself standing in full military uniform next to the Great Leader of North Korea, Kim Il-sung, shaking hands. Both men were smiling. Hero Kang told me that the photograph was taken in Pyongyang in the Great Hall of the People almost twenty years ago, after the end of the Korean War.

"You must've been very brave," I said, "to receive such an honor.

His round face grimaced. He changed the subject.
The premise is interesting. But there were quite a few moments when I stopped and said things like, "Why wouldn't he wrap his feet in something?" Or "He thought he could do WHAT with his version of martial arts?" Or even "Doing that, while carrying a baby? Are you crazy?"

In the long run, THE JOY BRIGADE is a tall tale, a wished-for adventure for an investigator who dreams of ending the Korean standoff, and seeing Confucian values and family affection knit together a divided nation.

The thing is -- I really, really like Martin Limón's rough and friendly Army-based police procedurals (Jade Lade Burning; Slicky Boys; Buddha's Money; The Wandering Ghost; G.I. Bones; Mr. Kill; I haven't read The Door to Bitterness).  So THE JOY BRIGADE doesn't suit me very well. On the other hand, Martin Limón is such a good writer that I'll keep a copy on my shelf, and hope that the next book in the series goes back to the ground of buddies in trouble together, solving crimes and restoring some measure of justice. Like, umm, yeah, Hero Kang.

1 comment:

Beth Kanell said...

Worth reading this NYTimes article about the continued belief among Koreans that the North Korean forces may be trying to tunnel into South Korea - I think the article confirms that THE JOY BRIGADE is based on a significant cultural myth in the divided nation.