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A Corpse in the Koryo by James Church
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A Corpse in the Koryo (2006)

by James Church

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While the prose is very elegant and quite superior to most of those books in the genre, the plot was overly complicated and surprisingly uninteresting. Definitely not a page turner, and I really had to force myself to finish it. ( )
  ARKellogg | Oct 3, 2013 |
One of the best I read This yearhttp://www.goodreads.com/images/layout/shelf_arrow.gif?1255651377 ( )
  Condorena | Apr 2, 2013 |
I liked the writing style and the characters, but I never quite understood what was going on. Actually, quite is an understatement. I had no clue. But yet I sort of enjoyed it. ( )
  theonetruesteph | Mar 30, 2013 |
I find it hard not to be fascinated on some level with North Korea. It's not something I indulge often, because there's such a high pathos level about the place, but it does draw the attention. How must it be to live in a country so rigidly controlled, and to be so close to other places that were so similar culturally, and yet so much better and more sane places to live? It boggles the mind.

I'd heard of this book rather a while ago; in fact, I have this feeling I bought it for my friend Greg as a present at some point. I finally got around to giving it a try, after the new Kim took over and was settling into the news, and I remembered it. Turns out that it's quite a good story, a mystery that's really a sharp look at the society in which it's set.

Inspector O, a member of the Pyongyang police force, is sent off his beat to take pictures one morning of a car speeding along a road heading up from the south towards the capital. When his camera doesn't work, he gets called into a meeting with two government operatives from different agencies, Kang and Kim, and is then caught in a slowly revealed struggle between them that carries O around the country, dealing with everyone from other police forces to lawless border town residents to resident aliens.

The story isn't a total success - the framing story, where O is telling his story to an Irish agent after all the events of the story, seems particularly unnecessary, and things are opaque for rather longer than was probably called for, pacing-wise - but on the other hand, the characters and their environment are well-sculpted. Church was a former intelligence officer in the area, and his experience certainly shows through in his observations of the society, and all the myriad ways people work around the state's crushing powers. O himself is probably the best example of this, in that he's probably the most overtly against the power structures in the story; he doesn't wear his Dear Leader pin, he keeps around contraband in his office drawers, he hews to a desire to deal with the woodworking his grandfather loved during and after his army surface.

But it may just be that we see the most of O's breaks from authority; certainly, we get the sense that pretty much everyone is trying to work around the rules in one way or another, from importing Western porn to cars to cigarettes, to being able to criticize the state, but only in situations where the massive security apparatus can't see it, ideally. And they see a lot; we see a lot of them, indeed, including around the titular corpse. However, O and the others don't really seem to want to leave. They're proud of their country and what it does. They just want it easier on themselves.

On the whole, this book definitely feeds the fascination with the little hermit country and its people, but it's still a somewhat uneven first effort plot-wise. Perhaps Church will do better in his next book in the series, but this one is still of interest to people who want to understand North Korea more. ( )
  Capfox | May 12, 2012 |
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Epigraph
At dawn, the hills wake form the mist, One row, then another, Beyond is loneliness Endless as the distant peaks.--O Sung Hui (1327-1358)
Dedication
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No sound but the wind, and in the stingy half-light before day, nothing to see but crumbling highway cutting straight through empty countryside.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312374313, Paperback)

"On the surface, A Corpse in the Koryo is a crackling good mystery novel, filled with unusual characters involved in a complex plot that keeps you guessing to the end."
---Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post 
  
One of Publishers Weekly Top 100 Books of 2006
One of Booklist's Best Genre Fiction of 2006
One of the Chicago Tribune's best mystery/thrillers of 2006
 
Sit on a quiet hillside at dawn among the wildflowers; take a picture of a car coming up a deserted highway from the south.
         Simple orders for Inspector O, until he realizes they have led him far, far off his department's turf and into a maelstrom of betrayal and death. North Korea's leaders are desperate to hunt down and eliminate anyone who knows too much about a series of decade's-old kidnappings and murders---and Inspector O discovers too late he has been sent into the chaos. This is a world where nothing works as it should, where the crimes of the past haunt the present, and where even the shadows are real.
         Author James Church weaves a story with beautifully spare prose and layered descriptions of a country and a people he knows by heart after decades as an intelligence officer.
 
". . . an outstanding crime novel. . . . a not-to-be-missed reading experience. "
---Library Journal (starred)
 
"Inspector O is completely believable and sympathetic . . . The writing is superb, too . . . richly layered and visually evocative."
---Booklist (starred)
 
". . . an impressive debut that calls to mind such mystery thrillers as Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park. . . ."
---Publishers Weekly (starred)

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:48 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

CRIME & MYSTERY FICTION. Sit on a quiet hillside at dawn among the wildflowers; take a picture of a car coming up a deserted highway from the south. Simple orders for Inspector O, until he realizes they have led him far, far off his department's turf and into a maelstrom of betrayal and death. North Korea's leaders are desperate to hunt down and eliminate anyone who knows too much about a series of decades-old kidnappings and murders - and Inspector O discovers too late he has been sent into the chaos.This is a world where nothing works as it should, where the crimes of the past haunt the present, and where even the shadows are real. A corpse in Pyongyang's main hotel - the Koryo - pulls Inspector O into a confrontation of bad choices between the devils he knows and those he doesn't want to meet. Desperate efforts by the North Korean leadership set Inspector O on a journey to the edge of a reality he almost can't survive.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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