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Bamboo and Blood (Inspector O Novel) Paperback – 5 Mar 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Griffin,U.S.; Reprint edition (5 Mar. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312601298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312601294
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.7 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 738,566 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"The third in this outstanding series... Thoughtful crime fans will love what they find." - Booklist (starred review)." --Booklist

About the Author

JAMES CHURCH (a pseudonym) is a former Western intelligence officer with decades of experience in Asia.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rowena Hoseason HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on 28 Dec. 2010
Format: Paperback
This is the third novel in the Inspector O series. New readers are advised to start with `A Corpse in the Koryo' rather than trying to get to grips with O's character and his particularly peculiar situation all at once. The earlier books in this series have been rather more traditional whodunnits, set in communist North Korea with O as an idiosyncratic detective who solves mysteries, even when they slither into the perilous territory of state security.
In `Bamboo and Blood', author James Church shifts the focus of the story away from `interesting international detective' and deep into the territory of espionage and tradecraft. There is a murder to investigate and a mystery to solve, but these are the incidental interludes in the plot. `Bamboo and Blood' is a Cold War spy story, and the political position of North Korea in the late 1990s has ceased to be the backdrop to the action: the political position of North Korea IS the story.

Inspector O works in the Ministry of People's Security, usually investigating `normal' crime; theft, assault, so on. O has a flimsy layer of protection against the menacing machinery of the State Security agency, being the grandson of a hero of the people. However, his best defence when confronted with the attack dogs of the thought police is to be good at his job, solve crimes, and to subdue his intemperate responses with philosophical debate on the nature of trees. O has studied trees and wood all his life. He carries wooden pieces in his pockets, and the different types of wood provide comfort and security for him in times of stress. The title of this book reflects O's relationship with wood - however, bamboo is NOT wood and must bend. Or break.
The book is set in the winter 1997 when Korea was in the grip of an appalling famine.
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This James Church crime fiction novel features Inspector O as a Korean detective. It is an unusual investigation that somehow lacks in suspense. Not a book that kept me interested.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 19 reviews
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Inspector O is a reading pleasure! 27 Mar. 2009
By James Neville - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Bamboo and Blood by James Church is "an Inspector O" novel. I did not know what that meant when I picked it up but I soon found out. The prologue starts, "The Russians... think they are the only ones who know the cold," then jumps right into action.

I've been reading mysteries placed in Red China, Thailand, and now, with Inspector O, in Red Korea. Who knew it would be so entertaining, so warm, so enigmatic, so humorous? (Not giving away the plot here, OK?) Suffice it to say missles are involved (somewhat) and that I'm going to read more by the author, James Church.

Church's bio asserts a) His name's a pseudonym, b) He was with Western intelligence for decades in Asia, and c) Many of the events in the story really happened. That's nice but what I care about is the story engaged me from the start and I want to read more. All good mysteries have a mystery, yes, it's how they work, but the reason we read them is the milieu, characters, surprises, new perspectives.

I remember the same thrill first reading Len Deighton's novels about East and West Berlin. That's the closest I can come to sharing the feel of Bamboo and Blood, except now it's North and South Korea.

Inspector O is a reading pleasure!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Enigmatic as the country 20 April 2009
By Avid Reader - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The idea of a North Korean inspector/detective is great. We (in the West) have trouble imagining earnest, hard-working investigators working to solve crimes in a nation that does not follow the rule of law. That is the first and primary paradox in both the Inspecter O series and the Gorky Park type books set in the former USSR.

The author depicts a totalitarian stranglehold where the army spies on the police, schools are empty because teachers and students are quietly starving to death, orders can mean the opposite of what they say and innocence can mean guilt. It is a land of subtlety and nuance as is the book. The ever-present drabness and bitter cold was an integral part of the psyche, yet another obstacle to overcome in order to survive.

The story (***** Warning - Plot talk - ******) centers around talks on North Korean atomic weapons and attempts to either advance or derail the talks. All the while, Israeli agents attempt to offer a trade: Cessation of missile technology in exchange for money and aid. In the midst of the cloak and dagger sleuthing, Inspector O is told to investigate the death of a woman who may have been in Pakistan. He is given no details. In other words, he is NOT to dig too deeply. He travels to New York and Zurich, observing the abundance of the West with distant melancholy. Yet he refuses to defect, whether out of duty, honor or lack of choice we can't be sure. As he probes deeper, he must watch the shifting alliances within the regime, each scheming to survive the long, dark winter. The search for loyalties is as difficult as the elusive search for the dead woman.

My Grade - A+
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
paranoia of a regime that sees everyone even loyal citizens as the enemy 5 Dec. 2008
By Harriet Klausner - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In North Korea the Ministry of Public Security Inspector O is assigned to follow a foreigner. O quickly realizes the outsider is working for the Israelis. However, O also realizes that at least one or more other government security agencies are watching him and his superior Chief Inspector Pak.

Meanwhile Pak assigns O to investigate the murder of a North Korean diplomat's wife in Pakistan. However, he is warned not to solve the case, but to only gather known facts about the victim. Bristling over the limitation, O tries to solve the homicide, which only leads to more trouble for the dedicated inspector from other security agencies for his clues lead to the top secret special weapons program.

The third Inspector O investigation (see CORPSE IN THE KORYO and HIDDEN MOON) is once again a great tale more so because of a the deep look into North Korea. O is excellent as he knows other agencies are spying on him to insure he learns very little as the need to know is always restricted. The whodunit and the Israeli espionage caper are both well written to showcase Inspector O's skills and the paranoia of a regime that sees everyone even loyal citizens as the enemy.

Harriet Klausner
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Second Best of Three 23 April 2009
By C. Richard - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a review of the latest (third) installment in the Inspector O series by James Church.

Of the three books in the series (so far), I think this one is the second best. The first in the series, A Corpse in the Koryo, is the best in the series (and a really great book).

This book is set in the 1990's during the North Korean famine, but this stays more or less in the background in many respects. Inspector O spends a large part of the book in Geneva in any case - plenty of cloak and dagger there and even a love interest of sorts. Strangely enough, his boss Pak is back, although he died in an earlier book - maybe they are not coming out "chronologically". Pak was a really good character, so it is nice to see him again.

The thing that I missed here was the local color of North Korea that was so extensive in the first book - there was some here, but not that much. As in all the books, Inspector O investigates, but things are never quite fully resolved (or not resolved at all) by the end, which is a little less than satisfying. It is never quite clear (even to the Inspector) why things are being investigated, or if they really tie together. But then, North Korea is a bizarre place and maybe this is all part of a game generated by the jockeying for power among the top dogs. Unlike the other books, there is some attempt to explain at the end, but it does fall a little short.

Overall, this is a much better book than the second in the series, but no where near as good as the first. It is still worth a read.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Mixed Bag 11 July 2009
By Zoeeagleeye - Published on
Format: Hardcover
It was a mixed bag for me. Yes, the guy can write. He has wit and some depth and he knows his wood. What he can't do is make much of the action plausible. He may have been a former spy, certainly not a former English teacher, for he embraces the "fallacy of imitative form," which is to say that in order to portray the cryptic, he writes cryptically. This does not work out well for the reader in terms of comprehension. In his head I suppose it all makes sense, but in mine, it doesn't. There are too many "why's" for me: Why didn't O know who Sohn was? I did. Why was Dilara even involved? Just so O could have some sex and be hit on the head? Rather irrelevant and not funny. I mean, she isn't even described. Why would M. Beret be an assumed name when his actual name and position are public knowledge? What's with the stupid woman on the bench who thought O was Chinese? Irrelevant and superfluous. Just as was O's trip to NY.

But the author's most tiresome habit (besides a love affair with non sequiturs) is interspersing a great deal of prose between normal dialogue: Let's say a character asks, "What are your reasons?" Here will follow descriptions of weather, street, facial tics, funny remarks, philosophical statements, observations of character for 100-200 words. Paragraph. Then, "They are not for you to know." Hmmm, what isn't for you to know? So you have to hurry back up to the first sentence of the preceeding paragraph in order to remind yourself of how the dialogue started. Of course, it doesn't stay with you because the interspersed prose is so riveting.

Who is the mutual friend who sent O the wood? I could come up with at least three possibilities, none of them terribly fitting. Why does O burn the wood? The girl murdered in Pakistan is a shaggy dog. Really, the entire book is about a low level inspector being surprised to be chosen to go to Geneva to pass along exactly one sentence to the Americans. That's it. Instead, he delivers his sentence to the Swiss but does not repeat it word for word, which is odd, especially since his boss loves code. Then he returns to North Korea fairly clueless.

The cold (it's either raining or snowing) permeates the book, as does the despair and dullness of the citizens of NK and this also leaks out to the reader. There is not one happy or near-normal person in the book. It suffers due to the very lack of contrast. Unrelenting depression and anxiety can eventually be tuned out -- which I did -- but I couldn't have done it had these moods been expanded with contrasting upbeat qualities like joy or playfulness, at least a few times.

For me, the characters were so opaque that they and the book never came to life. Yet I truly enjoyed a great deal of the author's prose. It was the little originalities that delighted me: Says O, "I told you I lost my temper. Not lost, actually. More like I folded it up and calmly put it in my pocket." I will do that with Bamboo and Blood.
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