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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mr. Kill, by Martin Limón (hardcover, $25)

Over the prior six books Martin Limón has written in his series, he has taken Army Criminal Investigations Division detectives George Sueño and Ernie Bascom through some physically punishing times in 1970s South Korea. Add Mr. Kill to the list. Bascom especially has a way with his fists and uses them when words don't accomplish what he wants. Sueño, the narrator of the stories, has a more intellectual approach to crime solving, but he, too, can come out swinging.

Mr. Kill is the closest Americans can get to pronouncing Mr. [G/K]il Kwon-up, a heroic and almost mythical detective for the Korean National Police. He exhibits talents learned from both the new and old worlds. He's a tae-kwon-do expert who also knows calligraphy and history. His office is in a modern police station, and his officers use 1970s-modern techniques. There wasn't enough of Mr. Kill in the book, in my opinion. He was such a fascinating character that I'm hoping Limón has more in store for him.

Sueño and Bascom determine that an American G.I. is raping Korean women on trains. They are not interested in covering up on behalf of the U.S. government, which immediately puts them at a disadvantage in terms of cooperation. Luckily they're bull-headed and heavy-fisted. They are not above bending the law themselves to suit their purpose. And their purpose is to catch the rapist.

On the other hand, while not immediately sanctioning this more important case, the military puts Sueño and Bascom in charge of escorting women country and western singers who are on a USO tour. Someone has been stealing pieces of clothing and equipment. A boot here, a bra there. 

The C.I.D. detectives must balance working on these cases, and find time to sleep somewhere in their busy days and nights.

What Limón does really well is return us to a time and country that we never knew  while it was happening. G.I.s have been stationed in South Korea since the Korean War in the 1950s. The complications resulting from a clash of cultures, a not-so-hidden American feeling of superiority, and the tense military situation between North and South Koreas provide the unique background of Limón's books.

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