After A Corpse in the Koryo, the rip-roaring start to the Inspector O series, Hidden Moon comes as a bit of a disappointment. Maybe the freshness of the debut is a tough act to follow, but somehow the first time round Inspector O had more character. He’s still got his quirky interest in different types of wood, he still stands up to beatings as much as he did the first time round. But somehow he seems less human in this installment. Last time, he traveled the length and breadth of the country totally failing either to get laid or, more importantly, get a cup of tea. This time, he shows himself to be aware of his limitations (the bank manageress with the impossibly shapely waist is always going to be out of reach) while conversely he shows himself to be unexpectedly well-versed in the poetry of Robert Burns.
No detective thriller is complete without the wrap-up section at the end which explains to the bewildered reader precisely what has been going on. This book is no exception. But with Kazakhs, Russians, Germans and a Scot involved, and various competing DPRK ministries (whose remits aren’t particularly clear) and independent agents who may or may not be working for one or more of said ministries, the plot is rather too clever by half – so that at the end the reader is still none the wiser as to how everything fitted together. And to me, if the bad guys had succeeded in their immediate objective it’s not at all clear to me that their desired consequence would have ensued.
Sadly, we make no progress in finding out any more of O’s back story – he has a guardian angel somewhere high in the Establishment because of the revolutionary achievements of his grandfather. Maybe this is being held back to be drip-fed in a future installment. Let’s hope the third novel marks a return to form.