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Hedy Reviews “Jade Lady Burning”

By Library Staff

The Library’s Mystery Book Discussion Group’s theme this year is War and “Jade Lady Burning” is representing the Korean War.  Though it takes place in the 1970s, almost 20 years after the end of the War, the US Military still has a strong presence throughout South Korea and some Koreans look for any opportunity to foster resentment.  When a young Korean woman is found brutally murdered in a torched apartment in the redlight district of Seoul, everyone wants to blame her American soldier boyfriend.  Military police sergeants George Sueno and Ernie Bascom are assigned to the case and decide the blame may rest elsewhere.

Limon served five tours of duty in Korea and his descriptions of particular parts of the country and culture are spot-on according to others who have been there with the military.  I haven’t served in the military, so I just suspended disbelief and absorbed the mostly dark atmosphere full of gritty realism.  It’s a tough situation considering that 40 years after this story takes place, the US STILL has such a strong presence there.  Two very different cultures have met and have been trying to function side by side.

George Suenos has a lot of appreciation for Korea with asides about jade, ginseng, the unusual food, and how one’s status is not determined by money but by the writings of Confucius.  He also has compassion for the plight of women who have to making their livings on the streets and in the bars of Seoul.

Ernie Bascom is impulsive, stubborn, cynical, and intense. One of my favorite sentences in this book: “Ernie grinned a sheepish half-moon filled with well-brushed canines.”  So descriptive!

“Jade Lady Burning” is the first in a series of 10 (so far).  If you like a combination of crime fiction, military fiction, and stories set in Asia, you might enjoy this series.  While researching it for a discussion, I discovered another well-reviewed series by James Church that would make an interesting counterpoint as it’s set in North Korea.  The first in that series is “A Corpse in the Koryo” MYS CHUR.

“Jade Lady Burning” by Martin Limon, 1991, 254 pages, MYS LIMO