MysteryPeople Pick for August: The Iron Sickle by Martin Limón
Reviewed by: Scott M.
Martin Limón‘s series featuring George Sueño and Ernie Bascome is a must read. The cases of these two CID Army detectives in the South Korea of the ’70s explore culture, bureaucracy, and the hard pursuit of justice, with an approach both hard boiled and human. The latest, The Iron Sickle, is the epitome of this.
The title refers to the weapon used by a killer who went on base and murdered two personnel. Some think it is the work of a North Korean agent, given the communist symbolism of the sickle. The plot becomes even more convoluted when Bascome and Sueño find themselves in an investigation where neither the U.S. Army nor the Korean government want to be responsible for finding the perpetrator. With the help of a female Army psychologist, who is after Sueño as well as the killer, the two follow a trail of violence that leads to a mountain village and its dark history, where the line between victim and victimizer blurs.
Limón always creates a vivid sense of his investigators’ time and place. Like Sueño, he has an understanding and respect for the cultural surrounding. We learn much about Korean society through the detectives and their interactions with customs and protocols. He also covers the Army politics and bureaucracy that get in the way of investigations. Sueño has an amazing explanation of how their civilian dress code makes them stand out while trying to work.
The book is also one of the best examples of Sueño and Bascome’s friendship. Sueño is an orphan from the L. A. barrio who has fallen in love with the world he’s landed in. Bascome fought through three Vietnam tours and is driven by action and an adversarial nature. The two are more than a cop-buddy relationship of opposites. We see their subtle effect on each other. Both are comrades united by a clear sense of righteous purpose that doesn’t fit the group they are in.
The Iron Sickle is a great introduction to the Sueño-Bascome series while building on what came before. Limón looks at history and culture, and at the sins of each, with two heroes who understand the true meaning of justice. You’ll be going back for the other books after you’ve read this one.