Martin Limón: The Door to Bitterness

Door to BitternessSoho Press, New York, 2005

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Martin Limón’s fourth book in the series featuring George Sueño and Ernie Bascom continues some familiar themes. Our drink-sodden heroes, officers in the CID of the US 8th Army in Seoul in the 1970s, as usual demonstrate their physical strength in tackling villains and their iron constitutions as their bodies are pummelled by alcohol and fists, showing their inside knowledge of the vice dens of Itaewon, of the workings of the black market, and displaying the intolerance of authority which any good cop shows. The action is still as fast-paced as ever, and as before is spiced with the inevitable encounters with “business girls”, where Bascom seems always to have more success, to the envy of Sueño, the narrator. There’s also the requisite high body count, familiar to any reader or watcher of your average murder mystery. What is new this time is a slightly gentler outlook: we learn more of Sueño’s unhappy past, and this particular story being set at the time of Chuseok there’s an angle on Korean family values. All great fun, and the plot hums along nicely, with only one of the murders not terribly well resolved.

What is just a little puzzling is the confused mirror image sense of geography which somehow seems to have escaped the notice of the editors:

The City of Inchon sits on the coast of the Yellow Sea thirty kilometres due east of Seoul,

we read at the beginning of Chapter 2. A few paragraphs later the error is reinforced:

If you ventured out onto that green expanse [ie the Yellow Sea] and continued east, you’d eventually hit Shanghai and the teeming continent known as China.

Later we get:

From where we sat we could see out to the Port of Inchon, and beyond to the rippling waters of the Huang Hei, as the Koreans call it — the Yellow Sea.

So here I’m getting really pedantic. The Koreans, I’m reliably informed, call it Hwang Hae, (yes, the Yellow Sea). And they also call it the West Sea. Using this moniker would have pointed out Limón’s earlier error.

It doesn’t really matter though. This is great pulp fiction for holiday reading.

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