Thursday, August 22, 2013

My Bouchercon 2013 panels: Martin Limón on life after wartime

I chose the name "World War II and Sons" for one of my panels at next month's Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, N.Y., with Martin Limón in mind. His novels and stories chronicle the adventures of two criminal investigators in the U.S Army in 1970s South Korea. They thus have much to say about a war's strange and lingering aftereffects (made even stranger because the Korean War still awaits a final peace agreement).
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Sure, Martin Limón's novels are rollicking tales of two loose-cannon military investigators, but they show considerable and illuminating sympathy for a society recovering from war.

Here’s co-protagonist/narrator George Sueño on a British soldier’s Korean manservant from Slicky Boys, second novel in Limón's series:
“His English was well pronounced. Hardly an accent. I knew he’d never gone to high school — probably not even middle school — or he wouldn’t be working here. He’d picked it up from the GI’s over the years. Intelligence radiated from his calm face. When I first arrived in Korea, I wondered why men such as this would settle for low positions. I learned later that after the Korean War, having work of any kind was a great accomplishment. Even cleaning up after rowdy young foreigners. At that time, the rowdy young foreigners were the only people with money. … Yim seemed lucid, calm, smart, sober. An excellent witness, except that I knew from experience that houseboys were so low on the social scale that nobody took their testimony seriously.”
Here he sees a sign of Korea’s recovery in the surprising beauty of a local “business girl”:
“Over the last few months, more girls like Eun-hi had drifted into the GI villages. More girls who’d grown up in the twenty-some years since the end of the Korean War, when there was food to be had and inoculations from childhood diseases and shelter from the howling winter wind. Eun-hi was healthy. Not deformed by bowlegs or a pocked face or the hacking, coughing lungs of poverty.”

And here are Sueño's thoughts on prostrating himself before a powerful gangster:
"So I’d lowered myself to a common thief. A Korean one, at that. ... Such things didn’t bother me. I was from East L.A. I’d been fighting my way up from the bottom all my life. Herbalist So had power. A lot more than I did. In certain areas, more than the Commander of 8th Army. He deserved respect. This little ceremony didn’t bother me any more than standing at attention in a military formation and saluting some potbellied general with stars on his shoulder.”
There's humor amid the sociology, though. Here’s a look at Sueño’s colleague Ernie Bascom:
“The joint was in the brightly lit downtown district of Mukyo-dong. Outside, a hand-carved sign in elegant Chinese script told it all: The House of the Tiger Lady. A kisaeng house. Reserved for the rich. `This place sucks,’ Ernie said.”
What are your favorite crime novels about the social after-effects of war?
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Martin Limón joins fellow authors James R. Benn, J. Robert Janes, John Lawton, and Susan Elia MacNeal on my "World War II and Sons" panel, Thursday Sept. 19, at 4 p.m., at Bouchercon 2013.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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28 Comments:

Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

Robert Barnard's Out of the Blackout is a good mystery novel dealing with war orphans. Darker than some of Baranard's other mysteries.

October 02, 2011  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

Barnard! Drat those typos.

October 02, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comment. The book sounds worth a look. I have a high respect for typose, since I divide my time between making them and correcting them.

October 02, 2011  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

I cannot come up with a favourite crime novel, but this has made me think of how war forces a premature adulthood on to many people who are close to violence.

"http://www.pushkinpress.com/engine/shop/product/9781906548254/The+Devil+in+the+Flesh"

October 03, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Olen Steinhauer has dealt with post-WWII Communist countries. And Philip Kerr does so for Austria and Germany (I think).

October 03, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

P à D:

Thanks for the note. Premature adulthood struck a chord. War, in fiction at least, forces people to grow. Billy Boyle in James R. Benn’s novel of thje same name loses a good bit of his youthful bravado almost as soon as he lands in wartime England.

October 03, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, Olen Steinhauer is good on the lingering after-effects of war. It might have been after reading one of his books that I suggested politics is the continuation of war by other means.

October 03, 2011  
Blogger Andrew Nette said...

Peter,
Nice post about an author I really like who not much is written about.
Andrew
www.pulpcurry.com

October 03, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. He's farily new to me, but he's worth reading. He was one of Soho's very first authors, if not its first.

October 03, 2011  
Anonymous May said...

Your write-ups for Martin Limón are definitely convincing me to add this to my 'to read' list.

War is a great source of violence in society, even after after the official end. For example, I was intrigued when I learned that part of the reason why the American West was such a dangerous place at the end of the 1800's and the beginning of the 1900's was because there were all these former soldiers in the Civil War who were unemployed, perhaps traumatized, familiar with violence, murder, and firearms. I imagine that in 10, 20 years, there will be crime novels written with protagonists whose back story includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan...

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. Limón's setting is like no other in ctime fiction that I know of.

None come to mind at the moment, but I think there have been protgonists whose back stories include service in Vietnam. I see no reasn to suspect your prediction will not come true, and sooner than you suspect. I'd wager there have already been such protagonists.

But what makes Limón's books unusual is the sheer numbers and concentration of the military presence -- much more than a small group of returned veterans. They form a separate society, with all kinds of problems of its own in addition to its relationship with the main Korean society.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

A bit off-topic here, but I just wanted to let you know that I was impressed by your posts on Martin Limon. I found a copy of _Jade Lady Burning_, which I think is the first in the series, and read it through in one sitting.

I've added Limon to my "must read" list. It's on to the second in the series, whichever one that is.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm glad you find Martin Limón interesting and worth reading. Slicky Boys is the second in the series and not quite as good as the three others I've read. There's a bit of getting inside the serial killer's head, which I don't think works all that well. But I give Limon all the credit in the world for trying something different.

My two favorites so far are Jade Lady Burning and The Wandering Ghose.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

"War is a great source of violence in society, even after after the official end."

It took me years to realise that there are people who actually like and benefit from war.

Many of my friends emigrated and were glad to get away from the society that existed in the 1970s and 1989s here.

I think that the Celtic Tiger was a reaction by the ordinary population against the serious trauma caused by the conflict in Northern Ireland.

There is a well documented social fact, that people live for the day during wartime. Apparently Paris was a party capital during the Occupation and the artists were quite pleased as they could get on with their work without having to take an ordinary job.

Open to debate...

And there are so many books on the subject.

Proust said that the happiest years of his life were during his military service.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

Sorry... 1980s...

October 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

P a D, I've often remarked on the Northern Irish crime fiction about the afterlife of the troubles: Adrian McKinty, Stuart Neville, Garbhan Downey, even in an odd way Kevin McCarthy, whose "Peeler" is historical.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

This has set me thinking about all the short story writers on the national curriculum for children in the past. Sean O'Faoilain and Liam O'Flagherty were greatly admired and their work terrified me.

This may have been the intention:

"irishcultureandcustoms.com/awriters/liamoflaherty.html"


Have your read their work?

October 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I’ve read Liam O’Flaherty’s The Assassin, and I have a copy of The Informer lying around. I suppose I can imagine them on a reading list for teenagers.

October 06, 2011  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

These are the classics of the Irish Short Story, which for years was the national genre of choice.

This is insightful:

"http://21stcenturysocialism.com/article/frank_oconnors_guests_of_the_nation_01632.html"

October 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. That's now printed out and ready to read. That article appears to consist of commentary and then Frank O'Connor's short story -- a nice combination.

October 07, 2011  
Blogger Fred said...

ejacePeter,

The library doesn't have _Slicky Boys_, so I guess I'll check out the used book stores. It does have _Wandering Ghosts_ and _Buddha's Money_ though.

October 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Those two are worth reading. I liked The Wandering Ghost a bit better, though that may be fondness for my first exposure to Limón.

October 08, 2011  
Anonymous Liz said...

Thanks to a mention here, I picked up the first of James Benn's Billy Boyle series and am now reading to catch up.

August 23, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And thanks for letting me know. That's quite a scene where cocky young Billy finds out what war is really like in London.

The latest in the series, A Blind Goddess, is near the top of my list.

August 23, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed Rebecca Pawel's series that takes place after the Spanish Civil War. I believe Death of a Nationalist is the first one.

Barry R.

August 25, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Is she still writing that series? I remember she was surprisingly young--28, I think--when the first book appeared.

August 25, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to her web page she has stopped the series at what she feels is its natural conclusion, so Summer snows is the last one.

Barry R.

August 25, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's the trouble with wars: They end, restricting the possibilities of fiction that depends on their outcome.

Rebecca Pawel has slipped through the cracks for me over the years--odd, since I've read many of her fellow Soho authors. Perhaps I'll take a look after this Bouchercon. Thanks.

August 25, 2013  

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