Thriller Review: “The Joy Brigade” By Martin Limon
When it comes to contemporary authors who write thrillers and mystery novels about Korea, Martin Limon, is probably the only name that comes to mind. Limon retired from military service after twenty years in the US Army, including ten years in Korea. He is the author of several books in the Sergeant George Sueño series with “The Joy Brigade” being the last one released by Soho Press.
A Brief Summary:
Seoul, early 1970s: US Army Sergeant George Sueño is on a mission of extreme importance to the South Korean government, as well as the US Army. Kim Il-Sung has vowed to reunite North and South Korea into one country before he hands control of the government over to his son, which means North Korea is planning to cross the DMZ and overpower the American-allied South Korean government. Sueño’s mission is to prevent this by sneaking into North Korea and obtaining an ancient map detailing the network of secret tunnels that run underneath the DMZ. To do so, he will have to go undercover and infiltrate the North Korean Communist inner sanctum.
Aware of the often dubious nature of the US Military’s tactics, Sueño is skeptical about his assignment. But he has other things on his mind. The keeper of the map is Doc Yong, a former lover of Sueño’s who was forced to flee South Korea the year before—and she has a son. Before they can be happily reunited, the plan falls to pieces, and Sueño is captured. Can he rely on the enigmatic Hero Kang, his sole contact in the hostile country? Will the lovely Rhee Mi-Sook, the leader of the North Korean secret police, be too much to handle? And who are the mysterious group of women known as the Joy Brigade?
We like the stories from Limon, not only because of his style, but also because of the fact that they are unique.
Not many authors write mysteries set in Korea with the impressive level of detail Limon includes in his novels.
He transports you through time and place to Soviet-era Korea and paints the whole picture in front of you. This book is more of a thriller rather than a mystery but the main character Sueno is the same: Relentless, brave and trying to get his job done the ethical way and not the way some of his superiors in the U.S. Army are asking him.
The book is at times dark but the reader also finds some joy in the way the story is presented: It is very cinematic; the hero is overcoming several challenges to complete his mission and along the way when we feel he is trapped in a situation which is rather impossible to get out of, something unexpected happens and Sueno finds himself again with the luxury of freedom.