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*Starred Review* Church's previous novels featuring North Korean cop Inspector O showcased the endemic paranoia and dysfunction that is bedrock in the most secretive nation on earth. In The Man with the Baltic Stare (2010), O is retired by his government and banished to a mountain-top, only to be called back into service. This time, the guileful and cantankerous O has had to flee his country. He's living with his nephew Bing in a backwater region of northeast China that borders North Korea. Bing is head of state security for the region, and his skill at controlling corruption at the border is all that allows him to keep his job. But a visit by Madam Fang, the most beautiful woman in the world, draws Bing and O into a bizarre quest for an almost unknowable objective, a quest that becomes increasingly more mysterious and hazardous. Bing, who narrates the story, is weighed down by the same obstacles O always faced: misinformation and disinformation about his assignment. As the story progresses, assorted Chinese, Mongol, and Kazakh agents, all maddeningly inscrutable, sow further confusion, making this the most convoluted investigation O has ever faced. The Man with the Baltic Stare was reported to be the final book in the series. Here's hoping Inspector O has merely been transplanted to a new locale and will continue to appear in further adventures. He's one of a kind.--Gaughan, Thomas Copyright 2010 Booklist
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Major Bing, a Chinese security official working the North Korean border, doesn't pretend to understand everything about his spy-ridden corner of the world, but the day Madame Fang appears at his home asking for his uncle, Inspector O, is the day any sort of false calm ends. A former Chinese agent now wants to return to China, and somehow Fang is a part of the operation. There's also rumor of a forged government seal that needs to be recovered. In short order, Fang disappears and Bing is sent to Mongolia to retrieve the missing official but finds his efforts hindered until Inspector O gets involved. As usual, he never shares much of what he knows with his frequently befuddled nephew. Events in Mongolia step up the pace considerably but readers' heartrates will speed up even more when Bing and O find themselves in North Korea. VERDICT- Former intelligence officer Church's hold on this particular corner of espionage is without peer, and readers will be thrilled to try his new series-. It helps to know the "Inspector O" series (start with the first, A Corpse in the Koryo), but Church's brief asides make it possible to jump in cold. Yes, it's intrigue and all very covert, but think Rex Stout here as well. Share also with Colin Cotterill-, Michael Stanley, and Philip Kerr readers. [See Prepub Alert, 7/5/12.] (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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Church's stellar first in a new series introduces Major Bing, the nephew of Inspector O, the hero of the pseudonymous author's series set in North Korea (The Man with the Baltic Stare, etc.). Bing, who heads a state security office in China near the North Korean border, and his uncle, with whom he lives, have an affectionately prickly relationship reminiscent of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. In an intricate plot that ranks as one of Church's best, Fang Mei-lin, "the most beautiful woman in the world," arrives at Bing's house to seek his uncle's help with a problem she keeps secret from Bing. A satirical look at paranoid intelligence structures ("No one finds out about what the Third Bureau is doing on purpose. Not even the Third Bureau") and the snappy, irreverent narration (O hums "a Korean folk song, not so much carrying the tune as pushing it in a wheelbarrow over rocky ground") add to the fun. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.