Soho Crime, 320 pages, $26.95
At this point in the series, Sueño and Bascom are CID detectives for the U.S. Army in 1970s South Korea. Sueño is the level-headed narrator, an American who has taken the time to learn Korean, and Bascom is his brash, hot-headed partner.
Unlike many soldiers, they have ventured out further than just the base and red light district. They have fragile connections with members of the Korean National Police, including the appropriately named Mr. Kill (a bastardization of his Korean name). Sueño knows what rituals and behaviors the Koreans value and is appalled at the callousness and ignorance of the Americans.
A mysterious Korean man has wielded an iron sickle and killed the head of the Army’s claims office. The claims office exists to make reparations to Koreans harmed by the American military. Soon there are more deaths, and Sueño and Bascom try to figure out the connection. It makes sense to them that someone is angry over an unpaid claim, rather than having a personal vendetta against the claims manager.
Their investigation leads to an American military psychiatrist, who gives them an insight into the way the Koreans handle mental illness. They also must find the meaning of a gruesome fetish set near a marketplace that Sueño is sure has been left for him as a clue.
Martin Limón is one of those rare authors whose writing has deepened with every book. “The Iron Sickle” is no exception. His appreciation of the culture and understanding of what the Koreans suffered after the Korean War come through with every book. (He also has a good understanding of the military mind.) For being able to balance thrills and sensitivity, for an exceptionally good story, here’s an MBTB star for Martin Limón.
P.S. One of the things I miss most about Murder by the Book, the actual bricks-and-mortar bookstore, is getting to meet the wonderful customers and authors who came through the doors. Martin Limón entertained us with the most incredible stories, made us laugh, and impressed us with his loyalty. (Anytime you want me to come down from Seattle, just let me know, he often told us. I ask you, how special is that?) But that’s not why he got the MBTB star; he got the star because “The Iron Sickle” is a superior book.