Wednesday, January 6, 2016

CID Agents Sueno and Bascom Chase a Desperate Killer Armed with an Iron Sickle

This is the ninth entry in Martin Limon's excellent series featuring U. S. Army CID agents, George Sueno and Ernie Bascom. The series is set in the Korea of the 1970s, and the crimes that the two investigate often involve both U.S. Army personnel and Korean citizens. In consequence, Sueno and Bascom often find themselves locking horns with both the South Korean military and civilian authorities and with their own superior officers.

Such is the case here when a Korean man bluffs his way onto a U.S. base in Seoul and, using a small iron sickle that he has concealed beneath his coat, viciously murders the officer who is in charge of the 8th United States Army Claims Office. The office handles claims for damages done to South Korean citizens and their property by the U.S. Army. These claims run the gamut from the relatively small, say in the case of a farmer's field damaged by Army maneuvers, to the relatively large, say in the case of a Korean who is injured or killed being run over by an Army jeep.

The logical assumption would be that the killer might be someone who was disgruntled by the rejection of a claim against the Army. But both the U.S. and South Korean authorities do not appear at all anxious to dig very deeply into the case for fear that it might damage relations between the two countries. This is often an overriding consideration while things like truth and justice are deemed to be less important. Accordingly, those in command, both in the Army and in South Korea, insist that the attacker must be a mentally deranged person or perhaps a North Korean agent attempting to stir up trouble. In either case, the Power That Be would prefer that the killer be found ASAP and preferably killed while resisting arrest.

As usual, Sueno and Bascom refuse to take the easy way out and are not at all opposed to ignoring orders. They're determined to get to the truth of the matter no matter whose feelings might be hurt or whose interests might be damaged. They pursue a number of avenues that other investigators, both American and Korean, are ignoring, and the urgency of the investigation is heightened when the killer strikes again.

The investigation takes Sueno and Bascom out of Seoul and into the South Korean countryside and, as always, the real appeal of these novels lies in Limon's descriptions of the South Korean people, the countryside, and the relations between the Americans and South Koreans. Limon served for twenty years in the Army and was stationed in South Korea for ten of those years, so he knows the setting very well. The tension mounts rapidly as the story proceeds, and the climax is one of Limon's best yet. This is another excellent addition to a wonderful series.

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