James Church's Inspector O novels have been hailed as "crackling good" (The Washington Post) and "tremendously clever" (Tampa Tribune), while Church himself has been embraced by critics as "the equal of le Carré" (Publishers Weekly, starred). Now Church - a former Western intelligence officer who pulls back the curtain on the hidden world of North Korea in a way that no one else can - comes roaring back with a new novel introducing Inspector O's nephew, Major Bing, the long-suffering chief of the Chinese Ministry of State Security operations on the border with North Korea.
The last place Bing expected to find the stunningly beautiful Madame Fang - a woman Headquarters wants closely watched - was on his front doorstep. Then, as suddenly as she shows up, Madame Fang mysteriously disappears across the river into North Korea, leaving in her wake both consternation and a highly sensitive assignment for Bing to bring back from the North a long missing Chinese security official. Concerned for his nephew's safety, O reluctantly helps him navigate an increasingly complex and deadly maze, one that leads down the twisted byways of O's homeland.
In the tradition of Philip Kerr's Berlin Noir trilogy, and the Inspector Arkady Renko novels, A Drop of Chinese Blood presents an unfamiliar world, a perplexing universe where the rules are an enigma to the reader and even, sometimes, to Inspector O. Once again, James Church has crafted a story with beautifully spare prose and layered descriptions of a country and a people he knows by heart.
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The plot was all over the place, overly complicated, and did not come together in the end; and the new character, Major Bing, felt flat to me. I didn't find the mystery satisfying or interesting, and there wasn't nearly enough cultural or scenic description to overcome the not very exciting plot. I didn't get much of a sense of of atmosphere, which is bad news for a book marketed in the "noir" category. There were at least three separate long, pages long, conversations toward the close of the book, tying the loose threads together into something that made sense - but I found I simply didn't care by that point.
"Starred Review. Stellar... An intricate plot that ranks as one of Church's best... A satirical look at paranoid intelligence structures and the snappy, irreverent narration add to the fun." Publishers Weekly
"Church's elegant ambiguity and frequent digressions get a facelift with his new hero Bing's edgier first-person narrative, and he has great insight into Asian culture and politics. Casual readers, however, should be warned that the plot is tantalizingly complex." - Kirkus
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James Church (a pseudonym) is a former Western intelligence officer with decades of experience in Asia. He has wandered through Korea for years. No matter what hat he wore, Church says, he ran across Inspector O many times.
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