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 Carre" ("Publishers Weekly," starred).Read more...
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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 Carre" ("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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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-09-17
- Reviewer: Staff
Church’s stellar first in a new series introduces Major Bing, the nephew of Inspector O, the hero of the pseudonymous author’s series set in North Korea (The Man with the Baltic Stare, etc.). Bing, who heads a state security office in China near the North Korean border, and his uncle, with whom he lives, have an affectionately prickly relationship reminiscent of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. In an intricate plot that ranks as one of Church’s best, Fang Mei-lin, “the most beautiful woman in the world,” arrives at Bing’s house to seek his uncle’s help with a problem she keeps secret from Bing. A satirical look at paranoid intelligence structures (“No one finds out about what the Third Bureau is doing on purpose. Not even the Third Bureau”) and the snappy, irreverent narration (O hums “a Korean folk song, not so much carrying the tune as pushing it in a wheelbarrow over rocky ground”) add to the fun. (Nov.)
Sleuthing in the south of France
Somewhere in the hinterlands, flanked by hard-boiled detective fiction on one side and cloying cozies on the other, exists a brand of mystery offering up the plot devices of, say, an Agatha Christie, but lacking the violence of, say, a Mickey Spillane. The authors eschew the cuteness of talking cats, sleuthing priests or nosy B&B proprietors, crafting instead a canny group of protagonists who survive primarily by their wits. Peter Mayle slots neatly into this category with his latest foray into the world of suspense, The Marseille Caper. Rarely has the tone of a novel been better set with a first sentence: “Shock has a chilling effect, particularly when it takes the form of an unexpected meeting with a man from whom you have recently stolen three million dollars’ worth of wine.” Now, unrepentant insurance investigator/wine thief Sam Levitt faces the daunting proposition of having to work in some unsavory capacity for the very individual he so recently ripped off. Hijinks ensue (big time!), all set against the atmospheric backdrop of Mayle’s beloved Provence. Engaging and entertaining from its opening sentence, The Marseille Caper is do-not-miss fun!
DANGER AND DECEPTION
Imagine a Zen koan-spouting Sam Spade, transported magically across time and space to the modern-day China/North Korea border—a setting easily rivaling Depression-era San Francisco in terms of noir. Then, you will begin to get an idea of what’s in store in James Church’s latest Inspector O adventure, A Drop of Chinese Blood. Until now, O has plied his trade—espionage—in his native North Korea. This time out, O is in a nearby Chinese border town, the guest of his nephew Bing, a minor Chinese functionary deeply embroiled in the politics of the region. The introduction of the beautiful and dangerous Madame Fang into Bing’s life threatens the status quo, and her subsequent abrupt disappearance gives every indication of upending his apple cart completely. Reluctantly, the ostensibly retired Inspector O agrees to intercede on behalf of his hapless nephew—or is he acting in his own interests entirely? The Mysterious East is never mysterious-er than in Church’s novels, and his latest raises a rarely opened window on the inscrutable and hopelessly intertwined relationships of two of Asia’s most closed societies.
Plucky half-Inuit, half-CFA (“comes from away”) Edie Kiglatuk returns to the printed page in M.J. McGrath’s second Arctic thriller, The Boy in the Snow. Far afield from her native Ellesmere Island, Edie is on assignment in Alaska, serving as support staff for a dogsled team running in the fabled Iditarod race. She is a believer in the “old ways,” and when she is confronted by a bear on a remote stretch of snowy road she takes it as an omen; within minutes she stumbles upon the body of a frozen infant, decked out in silken wraps and ensconced in a tiny coffin. She reports her findings to the police, naturally, but early on she gets the distinct impression that the fundamentalist Christian officer assigned to the case would like nothing more than to railroad a certain contentious religious cult member for the crime. Easily the equal of its predecessor (2011’s White Heat), The Boy in the Snow is a tautly plotted, truly satisfying suspense novel. One small caveat: It helps to read these books in order, as there are a number of references to earlier events.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
One thing I really look forward to at this gig is killer (so to speak) debut novels. It’s a rare debut indeed that gets named Top Pick in Mystery, but that’s the case with David Mark’s suspenseful police procedural, The Dark Winter. The book offers up an exceptionally unusual premise: A killer seems to be targeting sole survivors of various tragedies, killing them in the way they “should have” died the first time around. A young African genocide escapee is brutally stabbed in her church; an elderly man who survived the sinking of a trawler many years ago is forcibly jettisoned from the deck of a supertanker—and these are but the beginning. Early on, Scottish cop Aector (pronounced like “Hector” with an opening phlegmy cough supplanting the “H”) McAvoy thinks he has uncovered the common thread, but there is precious little hard evidence to support his theory. Meanwhile, events both at home and at the station hint at a distinctly checkered past for our hero, leaving both his superiors and the reader wondering if he has the capability to stand up against such a formidable opponent. English critics have compared David Mark to the likes of Val McDermid and Ian Rankin. My prediction: It will not be long until new voices in the genre are hailed as the “next David Mark.”