U.S. Army investigators George Sueño and Ernie Bascom investigate another murder in 1950s South Korea in Limón’s The Ville Rat.
What was your own experience as a soldier in South Korea like?
During my first tour, my main job was coordinating with the military police concerning reports that appeared in the Korean media about crimes committed by U.S. soldiers against Korean civilians. I would read translations of these reports and compare them to the Serious Incident Report that the MPs issued, thereby getting both sides of the story. Talk about preparation for writing crime fiction set in Korea! During subsequent tours, I served as an artillery crew gun chief near the DMZ, as the editor/writer of a unit newspaper, and as a military intelligence aerial reconnaissance analyst in Seoul.
Did you know military police who inspired the creation of Sueño and Bascom?
My main experience with MPs was running away from them. However, over the years I did meet a few of them personally, and once I started writing, since I was still on active duty, I would informally question them about the particulars of their job. The inspiration for Sueño is partly my dad, Pete Limón, who grew up without a mom in East Los Angeles. Bascom was inspired by a good pal I knew in the army who I thought had some weird and interesting traits, not the least of which was having no concern whatsoever about what anyone else in the world thought of him.
How have Sueño and Bascom evolved from your first book?
My publisher and editor, Juris Jurjevics, told me once that too much drinking and carousing makes readers lose respect for my main characters. So I sat George and Ernie down and had a little talk with them. Their behavior has improved somewhat, but mainly I keep them in line by constantly giving them crimes to solve.
What about South Korea appeals to you?
When I grew up in the Los Angeles area, Southern California was on the cutting edge of the modern world, what with state-of-the-art freeways, a thriving aerospace industry, and the most modern airport in the world—not to mention a glamorous entertainment industry. As a teenager, I landed in Kimpo Airfield, composed of a short field lined with jet fighters and tin Quonset huts. When we left the army base, we first passed a sandbagged Korean army gun emplacement and then vast acres of ripening rice fields, interspersed with white cranes rising into the blue sky and farm boys riding the backs of oxen. The farm houses were nothing more than brick huts with roofs of straw thatch. For me, I felt as if I were traveling back in time and entering a tale told by the Brothers Grimm. I was fascinated.—