MysteryPeople Q&A with Martin Limon
Martin Limon has won dedicated fans with his series featuring George Sueño and Ernie Bascome, two Army CID cops stationed in South Korea in the early ’70s. The stories are fast paced with an intriguing look at both the Korean and American army culture and their interactions. His latest, The Joy Brigade mainly focuses on George Sueño, who is sent on a mission into the North during a precarious point in history. From this interview, you can tell Mr. Limon has an intimate knowledge of what he writes about.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: The Joy Brigade is a bit of a departure, more of a spy/adventure novel than a police mystery. How did it feel dipping into another sub genre?
MARTIN LIMON: The Joy Brigade is definitely a departure. I greatly enjoyed the chase and the thriller aspects–like Cary Grant in “North by Northwest.” So much so that I hope to do another some day.
MP: What was it like just focus to on Sueño?
ML: The focus on Sueño followed easily enough from the plot. He’s stuck in North Korea after all, alone. However, bringing some of the other crew in later, like Ernie and Staff Sergeant Riley, was even more fun than usual. I missed them.
MP: You look at a particular period in Korean history when Kim Jong Il takes over in ’72. The tension you describe within the American military reminded me of stories my dad told me about being stationed in Germany during the Cuban Missile Crisis. How touch and go was it from becoming another war?
ML: Military intelligence (that famous oxymoron) always took the threat very seriously. The North Koreans, often and repeatedly, said flat out that they were going to reunite the country before Kim Il-sung retired. All our training and field exercises and live fire drills were designed to head that off. The Cold War was all pervasive in those years and Korea was right in the center of it. After all, the Korean War was the first direct confrontation in the Cold War, and a devastating one it was.
MP: I know the series stems from your time in the Army when you were stationed in South Korea, but I assume you didn’t spend much time in North. Was research different for this book?
ML: We used to look at North Korea via aerial reconnaissance. I used to be stationed on observation points along the DMZ and stare directly into the eyes of North Korean soldiers. I personally have known, and know, many people from North Korea. I’ve read much about North Korea and the book that most influenced me was the memoir of Staff Sergeant Jenkins who defected across the DMZ in 1965 and spent over 40 years up there.
MP: A part of The Joy Brigade‘s plot hinges on a martial arts tournament that Sueño participates in. The detail in it is exquisite. How did you go about choreographing the fights?
ML: I studied Taekwondo for a number of years and once had the privilege of experiencing a move (sparring would be too grandiose a term) executed by a ROK Marine Corps champion. I never forgot it and enjoyed trying to make the tournament scenes as realistic as possible.
MP: What do you hope a reader gets out of the Sueño & Bascome series?
ML: A sense of a time and place that is gone forever.
MysteryPeople is proud to host Martin Limon Sunday, July 15th, at 4pm to discuss and sign Joy Brigade. Joining him will be author Timothy Hallinan with his book, The Fear Maker.