Martin Limón: The Joy Brigade
Soho Press, 2012. 304pp
Martin Limón’s eighth novel in the Ernie Bascom and George Sueño series covers new ground in many respects. It is the first novel in which we see Sueno on his own, not accompanied by his buddy Bascom. And it is the first time that Limon has ventured to locate the plot in North Korea.
This difference in mood might disappoint avid fans who are used to Sueño and Bascom getting outrageously drunk in the bars of Itaewon in 1970s Seoul, or having to deal with army top brass having a major “case of the ass”. But there is plenty enough action, and the change in location brings new ideas to satisfy. Of particular interest is the emergence of a shady paramilitary unit of the North Korean army known as the Fixers. Their job is discretely to clean up those embarrassing things that happen in life … the ones that you don’t want your bosses to find out about – such as letting an unknown foreigner escape your clutches when it was really your job to make sure he left the country on the next boat out. And the Fixers seem to be ruthlessly efficient in getting their job done.
Sueño is on a mission deep behind enemy lines to meet up with a long-lost friend from the South, who is a prime contact with a breakaway unit of the North Korean military who need support in resisting the impending punitive action from forces loyal to Kim Il-sung. Integral to the plan is the need to discover the location of a forgotten network of tunnels under the modern DMZ whose existence is described in a mysterious Joseon dynasty manuscript which emerged in a previous volume in this entertaining saga. En route Sueño has to win an Enter the Dragon style Taekwondo tournament, and interacts with members of the Kim family’s Pleasure Squad (the Joy Brigade of the title), while trying to outrun and outwit the kinky and curvaceous Fixer with the unorthodox interrogation techniques who happens to share the same name as my favourite South Korean actress. I wonder if Limón is a fan of hers too – he certainly seems to enjoy the character, and indicates that we might see more of her in future novels.
As with his previous novel in the series, Mr Kill, Limón leaves a couple of tantalising threads hanging, which one hopes will be tied up or further developed in a future novel. But hitting the shelves next is a collection of Sueño and Bascom short stories.