cover image Jade Lady Burning

Jade Lady Burning

Martin Limon. Soho Press, $19.95 (226pp) ISBN 978-0-939149-71-1

A dense wallow in the sleazy, labyrinthine decadence of Vietnam War-era Seoul, South Korea, in the company of army investigators Ernie Bascom and George Sueno gives this debut mystery a unique atmosphere. Unfortunately Limon, himself a U.S. Army veteran who served in Korea for 10 years, moves his narrative forward at a strangely leisurely pace. The two barely moral sleuths trudge through an endless succession of dark bars, propositioning or being propositioned by the local business girls (the negotiations lead to deals on several occasions), all the while asking questions about the brutal murder of Miss Pak 0k-suk. Limon renders an unforgettable setting and a nasty killing into which the local authorities and military bigshots seem reluctant to pry, gives us a patsy in the shape of the victim's seared GI fianee and creates sympathy for Kimiko, an older local woman who is trying to survive in a young girl's market. But the plot lags, and Limon underutilizes Bascom, whose innocent-looking puss conceals a classic crime-fiction psychotic. A mixed-bag first effort, with an evocative setting and a sluggish pace. (Oct.)