Travel Through the Looking Glass to Totalitarian North Korea
The five novels in the Inspector O Mystery/ Thriller Books series are scary, unsettling, unconventional mysteries. Imagine being a city cop in a paranoid, totalitarian state (North Korea) where black is white, up is down, and even the most usual interactions have a through-the-looking-glass feel. Such is Inspector O's predicament.
Inspector O's job is to investigate serious crimes, but almost no one has any incentive to help him discover the truth and quite a few people (most of whom work for mysterious security agencies) want to influence the outcome of his investigations. Some of those people have the ability to kill him and get away with it.
Church rarely reveals who loves whom, who works for whom and who is trying to achieve what. You and O have to guess everything, which will make you nuts, which is the point. The contrast between this blankness in human alliances and desires and the detailed descriptions of the physical setting, especially the natural landscape, heightens the paranoid mood.
I like these books because they are intense, exciting and creepy. Since O can't go directly after the truth, his investigations take some surprising twists and turns and I usually get lost early on. I keep reading because I want to find out if O is going to survive the investigation. (The bodies do pile up in these books.)
I would start with the fourth book, The Man with the Baltic Stare (#4). The fifth book, A Drop of Chinese Blood (#5), introduces a new narrator, Bing, Inspector O's cousin.
Below, the Inspector O mystery novels in chronological order:
A corpse in Pyongyang’s main hotel--the Koryo--starts O's near-fatal descent into a ruthless world of political intrigue and betrayal. Hidden Moon (2007, Inspector O Mystery/ Thriller Books #2) O sets off to solve Pyongyang's first-ever bank robbery and ends up running for his life. O travels to New York and Geneva--and barely gets back alive. The possibility of reunification with the South makes for strange--and deadly--bedfellows. O now lives across the border in China with his cousin, a secret-policeman named Bing.