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A Corpse in the Koryo (Inspector O #1)

3.45 of 5 stars 3.45  ·  rating details  ·  853 ratings  ·  171 reviews
Against the backdrop of a totalitarian North Korea , one man unwillingly uncovers the truth behind series of murders, and wagers his life in the process.

Sit on a quiet hillside at dawn among the wildflowers; take a picture of a car coming up a deserted highway from the south. Simple orders for Inspector O, until he realizes they have led him far, far off his departm
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published October 17th 2006 by Minotaur Books (first published 2006)
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Read it quick before North Korea decides you can't!

Kim Jong-il wasn’t just another fascist dictator whose only hobby was firing cruise missile over Japan when he got bored. He was also reportedly an incredible golfer. According to the state newspaper, the first time he ever played, Kim finished 18 holes in just 34 shots. Which would be 25 shots lower than the best official round ever played and would mean that he hit multiple holes-in-one in a single round.

With the whole country so completely l
This was one of those books that starts out as a mystery and finishes...well, pretty much the same - still a mystery. Part police story and part 007 spy drama, you never quite know what exactly is going on. The protagonist, Inspector O, (at least I can spell his name)is ordered about from pillar to post on a series of investigative odd jobs. He seems as mystified as the reader regarding the deaths and corruption encountered during the course of his investigative meanderings.

I'll be the first to
One of my coworkers is married to an editor for St. Martin's, and he came to a company party one time with a bunch of free books. Among the stack, I saw A Corpse in the Koryo and the title made me give it a second glance. The fact that it was set in North Korea sold me -- my sisters are adopted from South Korea, and I've had some interest in both countries for some time now.

The book's pacing is not particularly speedy, but it doesn't ever get bogged down either. The plot ticks away as more chara
Lisa Sansone
I agree with the general sentiments of most of the reviews on here.

I liked a lot of things about the book. I thought the character of Inspector O was interesting and engaging, and I was particularly moved by his relationship with both his grandfather and with his boss, Pak. In many ways, I liked the atmosphere set by the author, and really appreciated his attention to the small detail, as well as his evocative descriptions of people and places.

That said, I'm not entirely sure that the actual plo
Sep 22, 2008 Terence rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Terence by: New York Review of Books
Shelves: mysteries-noir
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 16, 2010 J. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: mystery, asia

There are quite a few reasons that this shouldn't be a winner, not least that the plotlines equivocate and cross themselves, while the reader is left with twelve shaggy-dog threads to tie together in the end. That is, if the reader is only interested in making some kind of logical structure out of the plot.

But there are two main things working in favor of A Corpse In The Koryo, the simplest of which is that Mr Church happens to be a former intelligence officer with 'decades of experience in East
Rebecca Huston
This was one of those novels that plays with your head for a bit. Inspector O, a man of little importance in the Ministry of People's Security finds himself thrown into a case of smuggling, illicit dealing, a Western reporter, and a beautiful girl named Lena. But it's more than a tale of finding out whodunnit. There's little touches of unexpected beauty, classic Korean poetry, and a real sense of being there. If you like your thrillers to be tense and nervewracking, this will do quite nicely. Th ...more
Jul 06, 2008 Anita rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in North Korea
While the prose is very elegant and quite superior to most of those books in the genre, the plot was overly complicated and surprisingly uninteresting. Definitely not a page turner, and I really had to force myself to finish it.
Diane Clavette
Pleased to meet Inspector O, a man of hidden depths. My introduction to North Korea was certainly influenced by the events taking place at the time. To say I felt a bit anxious would be an understatement. The constant mistrust hanging about, the not knowing what was really going on and the need to keep thoughts where they originate created a muscle tension that must permeate the whole of the country. With my western thought processes I found I was forced to alter my thinking in order to understa ...more
A solid mystery novel. If not for a couple of glaring defects, I would gladly have rated it higher. First off, the mystery itself--though witty and entertaining--isn't as tight as I would have liked it to be. Secondly, the book does very little to expand your understanding as to the mindset of North Koreans. That seems damn near unforgivable in a novel which uses its setting as its primary selling point. But for whatever reason, James Church's Inspector O thinks and talks just like an American. ...more
Well-written and compelling, the novel moves back and forth through time as North Korean Police Inspector O is drawn into a case which starts as a simple stakeout of a lonely highway. As one body after another is discovered, the investigation becomes like a dangerous maze with no clear way out and very few allies on whom he can rely. There are so many secrets, and everyone seems to know more than our beleaguered policeman with the soul of a carpenter.
One drawback is that there are so many twist
Margaret Sankey
A highlight in my collection of detective novels with protagonists who are morally ambivalent participants in repressive regimes--in this case, the detective is an investigator for North Korean state security called up on to handle a death in one of Pyongyang's few hotels for foreigners. He is the grandson of a revolutionary hero and thus both protected and keenly aware of his shield and its origin. The specific, everyday details are affecting, and I am always impressed with motives and antagoni ...more
(3.5 of 5 stars)

I can see why the reviews are all over the place for this book - it's definitely not your typical mystery, though the more I think on it, the more I wonder if that's not a misclassification anyway. Koryo is by any measure one weird hybrid of a book. With the intrigue and politics it's easy to think of John Le Carre, and the dark richness of the descriptions is definitely Raymond Chandler's noir all over, but then things get a bit harder to describe. It's more travelogue than poli
Ruben Varona
Hace algunos meses conocí a un puertorriqueño que lleva todo tipo de armas en el baúl de su auto y todas las mañanas se entrena para el Apocalipsis zombi: en caso de que la humanidad llegue a requerir mis servicios, sonríe como si hablara de pasear a su abuelita y no de extirpar cerebros. Tendinitis en los pulgares fue el precio que tuvo que pagar un amigo, por no calentar, antes de enfrentarse en videojuegos a hordas de hambrientos zombis nazis. Algunos días atrás terminó la tercera temporada d ...more
A murder mystery that takes place in North Korea. Caught my eye when I read a positive review of the book in the Washington Post by one of their intelligence reporters (either Pincus or Kessler. Can't remember which). But this book was so darned slow that I began to think I was the murder victim - or wished that I was. Worse yet, if I was the victim, I didn't care to know who killed me. I always believed that living in North Korea really sucked. Now I am convinced of it.
Derek (Guilty of thoughtcrime)
I read these mystery/thrillers set in foreign lands as much for the insight into another culture as for the mystery, so this novel was a disappointment when I learned almost nothing about North Korea. It's an authoritarian system. Great. I didn't even get much of a sense of "asia-ness" about it. As for the actual mystery - nobody actually seemed to care about the "Corpse in the Koryo" hotel, and it's solution was a throwaway at the very end.
Short and quick, but the plot didn't tug me a long like my favorite thrillers. What I enjoyed most about this book was the setting. North Korea is an interesting place that is often confusing for both the protagonist and the (western) reader. Still, it was like peaking behind the curtain and seeing an area that you aren't supposed to. For fans of the culture clash at the heart of John Burdett's Bangkok series.
This hard-boiled mystery should provide an insider’s view of North Korea given the pseudonymous author’s intelligence work there. But while there are glimpses of such insight, the setting of state control and social mistrust serves mainly as backdrop to a host of noir clichés only too familiar to Western readers. Corpse is deliciously dark and diverting, but less illuminating than might be hoped.
Carla Johnson-Hicks
I am not sure about this book. I thought it was going to be your typical murder mystery, but it was not. It takes place in North Korea so there is a storyline about the Military Police, Investigation Bureau and a network of citizens. There is a murder but that is not really the story. Inspector O is sent to a hillside to take a picture of a vehicle. The camera has dead batteries so he does not get the picture. He is sent up north but he is not sure why. He meets up with Kang, and his network. He ...more
Very odd book. Very well-written. Not sure if I understood what was going on half the time due to the political machinations and the utter foreign-ness of the setting (North Korea). It's a very unusual police detective novel. If you want something off the beaten track and totally different, this would be the book for you.
I really wanted to like this book, I found the setting of North Korea very intriguing and thought this would hold my interest. Unfortunately, the pace is much too slow. I understand as a reader of a mystery we would be kept in the dark along with the Inspector, but I gave up after 120 pages. Just too slow.
I'm surprised the ratings aren't higher for this one. I plan to read more in the series. The setting and main character appealed. The second one soon lost my interest and showed why the first one had the low ratings.

A quote that reflects why I liked it:

"'So you think. But knowing too much can only lead to trouble. You know what you need to know. I'm not talking about instincts. No, my instincts are fine. Sometimes they move sideways, like an ox stumbling across a muddy field, I let them move how
Michael Miller
My first Inspector O novel. Set in North Korea, this novel captures the insularity, the repressiveness, the political intrigue, all the while unwinding a nifty little mystery for the Inspector. I will read more.
Interesting. Didn't love it, but the sheer originality of a cop story set in North Korea is enough for me to give his next novel a chance.
Great start to a new detective series, this one set in North Korea, a place that fascinates me, and I suspect many others. This novel, written by a former intelligence office introduces us to Inspector O, grandson of a revolutionary war hero and a man deeply in tune with wood, an idea and image that the author plays with quite nicely. An odd, inexplicable assignment for the Inspector sets off a chain of events in sync with intense and important political changes, which come together in an intrig ...more
Dec 01, 2009 Beth rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: asia
This book did not appeal to me as much as I thought it would...a bit dry, redundant, and whiny!
I'm reading this for my mystery book group, but am not enjoying it. I may not finish it.
This book has very little to do with solving the murder of a man in a hotel. Rather, it is the story of Inspector O trying to find his way thru a maze of intrigue in the totalitarian government of North Korea. I like the fact that he is constantly searching out a cup of tea and I like that he has a passion for wood. I don't remember that he ever got the cup of tea ? And I am left wondering if he ever ate any meals in all the running around that he did. Also, why the narration to "Richie" ? Anywa ...more

I strongly recommend this book, author, series. Inspector O is an ordinary police detective in Pyongyang, North Korea. The author (a western intelligence agent) seems to have real affection for North Korea and the people there, and the books are like beautiful haikus strung together. The mysteries are never completely solved, the hierarchy irrational and maddening, the spying and eavesdropping entrenched. One of the central points is to see how Inspector O is able to maintain his sense of self
I expected dour and, while North Korea appears dour to Americans, Inspector O is not. He is thoughtful, witty, makes wry observations about the world, and is apparently random. If you want linear mysteries that are easily solved, don't look for that here, as Inspector O is contra-linear, weaving threads together of things that don't seem connected and leaping to well-founded conclusions that make sense from his worldview, but not from my Western perspective. And that (a different perspective) is ...more
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James Church is the pseudonym of the author of four detective novels featuring a North Korean policeman, "Inspector O".Church is identified on the back cover of his novels as "a former Western intelligence officer with decades of experience in Asia". He grew up in the San Fernando Valley in the United States and was over 60 years old in 2009.His "Inspector O" novels have been well-received, being ...more
More about James Church...

Other Books in the Series

Inspector O (5 books)
  • Hidden Moon (Inspector O, #2)
  • Bamboo and Blood (Inspector O, #3)
  • The Man with the Baltic Stare (Inspector O, #4)
  • A Drop of Chinese Blood (Inspector O, #5)
Hidden Moon (Inspector O, #2) Bamboo and Blood (Inspector O, #3) The Man with the Baltic Stare (Inspector O, #4) A Drop of Chinese Blood (Inspector O, #5) The Hammer of God

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