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A Corpse in the Koryo (Inspector O Novels) Paperback – September 4, 2007

Book 1 of 5 in the Inspector O Novels Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In an impressive debut that calls to mind such mystery thrillers as Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park, the pseudonymous Church, a former intelligence officer, provides a rare look into one of the world's most closed societies, North Korea. When Inspector O, a state security officer, is called on the carpet for botching a sensitive surveillance assignment, O soon realizes that competing forces in the military and intelligence hierarchies set him up to fail and that his personal and professional well-being depend on his walking a tightrope. The detective's pragmatic if unwavering commitment to the ideals of pursuing justice in the face of serious obstacles makes him a heroic figure who's well suited to carry future entries in what one hopes will be a long-lived series. Despite the exotic setting, Hammett and Chandler would have had no problem appreciating this hard-boiled narrative. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Inspector O, a North Korean state police officer, is given an unusual assignment: go to a certain part of a certain road at dawn and photograph a certain vehicle. Little does he suspect that this seemingly inconsequential task will escalate into a case that will lead him to risk his job, and his life. The (pseudonymous) author, a veteran intelligence officer, has intimate knowledge of Asian life and politics, and it shows: he gives the North Korea setting a feeling of palpable reality, depicting the nature of daily life under a totalitarian government not just with broad sociopolitical descriptions but also with specific everyday details. Inspector O is completely believable and sympathetic, a working cop who isn't entirely sure he believes in the things his government tells him to believe in. Comparisons to J. Robert Janes' series set in occupied France and costarring Gestapo detective Kohler are inevitable, but there is also a little of Martin Cruz Smith's early Arkady Renko novels here. The writing is superb, too, well above the level usually associated with a first novel, richly layered and visually evocative. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Inspector O Novels (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; 1st edition (September 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312374313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312374310
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #302,682 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Well-written, a good story, and compelling characters.
Craig
That being said, I found the book very readable; but, at the same time, it left me a bit empty.
Milton L. Peterson
I so liked these novels because of the depiction of North Korea and Inspector O's love of it.
Doro

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Olen Steinhauer on October 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I read A Corpse in the Koryo a year ago in manuscript form, sent to me my Mr Church's editor. I loved it.

Inspector O is an endearing character, with a mix of necessary pragmatism and romanticism, as well as authentic complexity.

It's not just the milieu (North Korea) that appeals--though that certainly does, taking the reader to a place few know at all. More, it's the writing--a beautifully honed minimalism that nonetheless evokes its scenes with great detail. I love it when writers are able to leave room for the reader's imagination. It takes talent to know where to leave those spaces, and James Church has plenty of such talent.

If you like fine writing, eye-opening characters and locales, and a quiet but purposeful intelligence wrapped inside a thrilling story, get ready to go to Church.
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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This debut novel from a psuedonymous American intelligence officer has one big thing going for it -- an unfamiliar setting. Its protagonist is "Inspector O", a North Korean policeman who becomes entangled in a feud between rival North Korean intelligence units and must bob and weave to avoid ending up caught dead in the crossfire. While the book does an admirable job of giving a sense of the daily emptiness of life under a totalitarian regime, the plotting is rather oblique, and those expecting a standard mystery or thriller will likely leave disappointed. The story is told through a fairly clumsy framework, as Inspector O sits in a safe house in Prague being "interviewed" by an Irishman apparently working for MI5. Through this interview, which sometimes previews plot points (such as the deaths of central characters), Inspector O tells the story. Unfortunately it's never explained why the Inspector is being interviewed in this manner, and the format only detracts from any suspense.

The tale Inspector O tells is of how, after a routine stakeout operation, he is gets pushed all over the map by his direct superior and the mysterious intelligence operative named "Kang." It's all very unclear, since no one tells the inspector anything beyond "go there, wait here, etc." and the reader is simply tagging along from point A to point B in equal bewilderment. Fortunately the inspector is an appealing figure -- the grandson of a war hero, he's filled with a sardonic, but not overly rebellious, attitude toward those in power. It would have been easy to make him a cardboard closeted reformer, but the author wisely avoids that route, instead making him a somewhat romantic soul, resigned to a hard life and seeking solace and life in small chunks of wood.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Andy Orrock VINE VOICE on April 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What's good about James Church's debut novel is its depiction of a viperous, sclerotic, graft-ridden North Korea. Everyone watches each other. Allegiances shift. Everyone is not quite who they seem. It's a snapshot of a regime that seems to be rapidly collapsing inwards. If even one-quarter of the book is on the mark (and the author - writing under a pseudonym - seems to have the pedigree to get this story plausibly right) - then it paints a devastating and bleak picture of life north of the 38th Parallel.

What's not so hot is the mystery itself. Like other reviewers here, I just didn't get it, to put it plainly. There are these interspersed chapters where the protagonist - Inspector O - is being debriefed by an Russian-speaking Irishman. After almost 300 pages, I'm still trying to figure out why these sessions were taking place. It added nothing to the book. Take those chapters out, the book reads exactly the same. Even after the denouement, I was still left scratching my head trying to figure out exactly what the mystery was, how it was resolved, and frankly, why I cared. For such a well-researched and well-crafted book, the core mystery at its center could have been presented better. Still, 'Koryo' a very good read.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Gary Griffiths VINE VOICE on January 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you thought the Soviet Moscow of Martin Cruz Smith is a bleak place, it is freaking Disneyland compared to James Church's oppressive North Korea in this intelligent and intricately plotted mystery depicting life inside one of the globes most closed and sinister societies. Likewise, Smith's sullen Inspector Arkady Renko is a regular Adam Sandler next to the cynical, irascible Inspector "O" of "A Corpse in the Koryo."

It is in this unusual setting that Church layers an unsettling mystery that sinks the reader deeper into intrigue and complexity with each passing chapter. The wily Inspector "O" is sent out one early summer money with a strange but simple assignment: watch the main road from the south leading to North Korean capital Pyongyang, and photograph "a car". While Dirty Harry wouldn't put up with such obscure orders without a complete explanation, this is, after all, North Korea, the tyrannical playground of deceased mad man Kim Il-sung and his dangerously wacko son Kim Jong-il. It is a country of hope long burned out and forgotten inspiration. A country so poor that, in a darkly humorous subplot, "O" spends seeks fruitlessly for an elusive cup of tea. While is the familiar American crime novels of New York, LA, or Chicago political corruption and questionable motives might run as undercurrent, in Church's North Korea, the graft and turpitude is blatant and acknowledged. One wonders why even bother with a police department, as party members and government officials seems to move and act with absolute impunity. But back to the story, the corpse of an identified westerner turns up in a room of the Hotel Koryo, an enclave for foreigners and their ever-present Korean spies in downtown Pyongyang.
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