Bamboo and Blood

Starred Review It is brutal winter in North Korea, the first winter after the death of Beloved Leader. His son and successor is grieving, and the country’s survival is threatened by famine and infrastructure collapse. Even in Pyongyang, government employees are hungry and cold. Word of mouth from the countryside and their own experiences cause Inspector O and Chief Inspector Pak to fear that the nation has “fallen apart.” But even as the country lurches toward collapse, foreigners interested in guided missiles stream into North Korea. O is sent to Geneva, ostensibly to ensure that the head of a diplomatic delegation doesn’t defect. There, Swiss, Israeli, and North Korean agents alternately charm and menace him, and O doesn’t even know what his superiors really want of him. The sketch of the most secretive country in the world is as spare and elegant as a Japanese painting. The machinations and motivations of the unseen politicians who pull O’s strings can’t be fathomed. Pak, O’s politically astute superior, often speaks in what sound like Zen koans. O is left to rely on himself and the wisdom of his animist-woodworker grandfather for guidance. Bamboo and Blood, the third in this outstanding series, invites readers to take a step through the looking glass. Thoughtful crime fans will love what they find. --Thomas Gaughan