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Bamboo and Blood

A mystery novel offers a rare glimpse into life in North Korea.

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Inspector O, the central character in Bamboo and Blood, is a police detective forged in the familiar mold of Sam Spade. He is stubborn in the pursuit of the truth, refusing to back off even when self-preservation would dictate a more prudent course.

Like Dashiell Hammett’s fictional private eye, Inspector O is a tough, wisecracking loner. He has an eye for the ladies, but they pass in and out of his life without lingering long. Also like Spade, Inspector O weaves his way through a world of corruption and power while somehow retaining a crusty idealism.

That, however, is where the familiarity ends.

Inspector O practices his trade in what must be the most exotic location for a police procedural: North Korea.A charter member of the “axis of evil,” North Korea ranks as the most isolated nation on the planet, a relic of the cold war that has somehow survived the advance of global consumerism.

In the minds of most Westerners, North Korea is a menacing place, nuclear-armed and ruled by a family dynasty portrayed in comic-book clichés of evil. In “Bamboo and Blood,” the reader is offered a very different window into life in North Korea. Here, human beings, not cartoon characters, people the streets and the hallways of power.

This is hardly a workers’ paradise. Ambition, corruption, and even greed can trigger everything from murder to auto-theft rings.

The North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Il, barely makes an appearance. But patriotism and morality still move men (and women), not least Inspector O himself, in this North Korea.

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