Summary and book reviews of Bamboo and Blood by James Church

Bamboo and Blood

An Inspector O Novel

By James Church

Bamboo and Blood
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Nov 2008,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2010,
    304 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Book Summary

The critically acclaimed A Corpse in the Koryo brought readers into the enigmatic workings of North Korean intelligence with the introduction of a new kind of detective---the mysterious Inspector O. In the follow-up, Hidden Moon, O threaded his way through the minefield of North Korean ministries into a larger conspiracy he was never supposed to touch.

Now the inspector returns . . .

In the winter of 1997, trying to stay alive during a famine that has devastated much of North Korea, Inspector O is ordered to play host to an Israeli agent who appears in Pyongyang. When the wife of a North Korean diplomat in Pakistan dies under suspicious circumstances, O is told to investigate, with a curious proviso: Don’t look too closely at the details, and stay away from the question of missiles. O knows he can’t avoid finding out what he is supposed to ignore on a trail that leads him from the dark, chilly rooms of Pyongyang to an abandoned secret facility deep in the countryside, guarded by a lonely general; and from the streets of New York to a bench beneath a horse chestnut tree on the shores of Lake Geneva, where the Inspector discovers he is up to his ears in missiles---and worse. Stalked by the past and wary of the future, O is convinced there is no one he can trust, and no one he can’t suspect. Swiss intelligence wants him out of the country; someone else wants him dead.

Once again, James Church’s spare, lyrical prose guides readers through an unfamiliar landscape of whispered words and shadows, a world wrapped in a level of mystery and complexity that few outsiders have experienced. With Inspector O, noir has a new home in North Korea, and James Church holds the keys.

Chapter One

The muffled whiteness fell in thick flakes, a final quickening before winter settled into the cold, hard rut of death. Halfway up the slope, pine trees shifted under their new mantle. A few sighed. The rest braced without protest. In weather like this, tracks might last an hour; less if the wind picked up. If a man wanted to walk up the mountain and disappear, I told myself, this might be his best chance.

“Fix these lenses, will you, Inspector? They’ve iced up again. Where are the lens caps? Every damn time, same thing—the caps vanish.” I brushed the snow from my coat and glanced back. Chief Inspector Pak was scrambling up the path, the earflaps on his hat bowed out, chin snaps dangling loose. No matter what, the man would not fasten those snaps. They irritated him, he said; they cut into his skin. Unfastened, they also irritated him. Gloves irritated him. Scarves irritated him. Winter was not a good time to be around Pak, not outside,...

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Reviews

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James Church has crafted the quintessential quiet man trying his best to do his job within a corrupt and volatile political system while not allowing its values to reset his own moral compass. The narrative says it all as Inspector O's first person account unveils a man of few words – indeed the dialogue is spare almost to the point of stark – but with incredibly picturesque and insightful observations. O is at once a man of his country, one gets a picture of a land of lean beauty and unforgiving climate, and of his own personal history, but not of his country's political regime.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

Full Review Members Only (1186 words).

Media Reviews
The Christian Science Monitor

[T]he third, and perhaps best, of what has become a stunningly good series of sleuthing tales.

Kirkus Reviews

Former intelligence officer Church's third Inspector O mystery, set a decade before the first two...finds the inspector no less acerbic and the author no more straightforward. This one's by turns dazzling and boring, frustrating and insightful.

Library Journal

Gifted storyteller Church, who obviously has a vast insider's knowledge of this mysterious country, leads the reader and Inspector O on a complex trail of misdirection and treachery. A third triumph for Church.

Publisher's Weekly

Starred Review. While the espionage elements compel, the book's main strength...derives from the small details that enable the reader to imagine life in North Korea.

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Beyond the Book

North Korea
James Church paints a grim picture of what life is like and how a government agency functions within North Korea. It is a picture in bold contrast to the one portrayed by the official website of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPR). The ideals, as stated by Kim Il-Sung, predecessor to current leader Kim Jong Il, are that, "the superior organism always help [sic] the inferior one. The superior always assist [sic] the subordinates and he goes always to the working areas to understand the real situation and take [sic] the correct measures to solve the problems; he gives preference to the political work, to the people's work in all the activities, and improves the enthusiasm and the creative initiative...

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