Tuesday 30 December 2014


Up until fairly recently I hadn't heard of this author or his books, before a comment from a reader over on the Goodreads site had me intrigued enough to do a bit of digging followed by a bit of buying!

According to Wikipedia........James Church is the pseudonym of the author of five detective novels featuring a North Korean policeman, "Inspector O".
Church is identified on the back cover of his novels as "a former Western intelligence officer with decades of experience in Asia". He grew up in the San Fernando Valley in the United States, and was over sixty years old in 2009.
His "Inspector O" novels have been well-received, being noted by Asia specialists for offering "an unusually nuanced and detailed portrait" of North Korean society. A Korea Society panel praised the first book in the series for its realism and its ability to convey "the suffocating atmosphere of a totalitarian state". A panelist as well as The Independent's and the reviewers at the Washington Post compared the protagonist to Arkady Renko, the Soviet chief inspector in Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park, for providing "a vivid window into a mysterious country"

There have been 5 books so far, and yes I bought them all even though I haven't yet cracked the spine on his first.
A Corpse in the Koryo
Sit on a quiet hillside at dawn among the wildflowers; take a picture of a car coming up a deserted highway from the south. 
Simple orders for Inspector O, until he realizes they have led him far, far off his department's turf and into a maelstrom of betrayal and death. North Korea's leaders are desperate to hunt down and eliminate anyone who knows too much about a series of decade's-old kidnappings and murders---and Inspector O discovers too late he has been sent into the chaos. This is a world where nothing works as it should, where the crimes of the past haunt the present, and where even the shadows are real. 
Author James Church weaves a story with beautifully spare prose and layered descriptions of a country and a people he knows by heart after decades as an intelligence officer. “. . . an outstanding crime novel. . . . a not-to-be-missed reading experience. ” 
---Library Journal (starred)
“Inspector O is completely believable and sympathetic . . . The writing is superb, too . . . richly layered and visually evocative.”
---Booklist (starred)

The Man with the Baltic Stare
From the author of the critically acclaimed Inspector O series comes another riveting novel set in the mysterious world of North Korea
Autumn brings unwelcome news to Inspector O: he has been wrenched from retirement and ordered back to Pyongyang for a final assignment. The two Koreas, he learns, are now cooperating--very quietly--to maintain stability in the North. Stability requires that Inspector O lead an investigation into a crime of passion committed by the young man who has been selected as the best possible leader of a transition government. O is instructed to make sure that the case goes away. Remnants of the old regime, foreign powers, rival gangs--all want a piece of the action, and all make it clear that if O values his life, he will not get in their way. O isn't sure where his loyalties lie, and he doesn't have much time to figure out whether 'tis better to be noble or be dead.

Koryo is the first in the series and Baltic Stare the fourth. I'm not too sure when I will get to these but I'm looking forward to them.


  1. Glen and I have read four of the James Church books. We really really liked the 1st one, but for me the later ones were not as compelling. I guess we kept trying hoping that they would match the level of the first one. But I have also read many many positive reviews, so I hope your experience with the series is better. I look forward to your reviews. The setting of North Korea is very interesting to me.

    1. Tracy - the first sounds quite chilling and I hoped the others were if not stronger at least at the same level....hmm. Like you, I hope my experience is better than yours and Glens - time will tell. I was intrigued by the setting also. Spooky how you were reading about South Korea with Martin Limon recently. I don't think I have read a crime novel in either locale. I have read some bits on the Korean War though.

  2. I don't think I've ever read any book set in either Korea, so I'll have to give this series some consideration.

    1. Ditto. I have just ordered the first two Martin Limon books, one of which Tracy blogged about recently. They are South Korea in location. I have some options!

      Only 7 hours plus a bit of book ordering left to me before the new embargo kicks in!

  3. Col, this author is new to me but these two novels sound very interesting. It's especially intriguing that the PI is based out of a closed and warped country like North Korea. And I think the author pulls off the character well.

    1. The closed nature of the society adds to the eerieness of the setting I think. Another massive plus point I think.