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A Corpse in the Koryo (Inspector O #1)

3.46  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,040 Ratings  ·  195 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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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,232)
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Dec 18, 2014 Kemper rated it liked it
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
Apr 24, 2013 Jim rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, mystery
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
My Review:

“You never know what they mean until you hear what they don't say.”
― James Church, A Corpse in the Koryo

Welcome to the city of Pyongyang -- the capital city of North Korea. In the beginning, we are introduced to Inspector O -- a member of the North Korean police force (and our protagonist). "A Corpse in the Koryo" was a very complex novel to grasp and thus, a challenging book to review. So bear with me, I shall try my best.

To be quite frank here, I found the plot to be a bit mess
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
Jun 12, 2015 Kathryn rated it liked it
I initially felt that I would like this, but then found it a little difficult to get into - possibly because I was distracted by another, very compelling book, so I temporarily put this one aside to finish that one. When I came back to it, it felt a little disjointed but I don’t know whether that was because my reading was interrupted, or because I was comparing the writing style to the other (excellent) book I’d just finished or whether this was truly disjointed.

There are some good quotes throu
Sep 22, 2008 Terence rated it liked it
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 really liked it
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
Oct 19, 2012 Darwin8u rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
An amazing and ambitious first novel. Think of it as Raymond Chandler gets hardboiled and eaten cold by a North Korean bureaucracy where the good guys don't just battle crime, but have to fight through a broken, Kafkaesque maze of political nihilism, factionalism, and stoic fatalism JUST to get some gas or a cup of tea. Church's natural details are amazing, his writing is both polished and crisp, and his story is superbly well-crafted (I can imagine the idea for Inspector O slowly evolving and b ...more
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
Mal Warwick
Aug 27, 2015 Mal Warwick rated it liked it
Practically nothing works. Government, police protection, buildings, cars, roads, appliances, telephones — whatever: they’re either falling apart, damaged beyond repair, or, if you’re lucky, barely functioning. Welcome to North Korea in the 21st century, where nothing gets done without a bribe, and it’s even difficult to find a cup of tea when you want one.

Just for example, “The train to Pyongyang was late. Not like some places, where a late train means twenty minutes, even an hour on a bad day.
Jul 06, 2008 Anita rated it it was ok  ·  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
Jan 25, 2015 Diane Clavette rated it really liked it
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
Jan 12, 2016 Gramarye rated it really liked it
North Korean spy novel/police procedural may sound like a tough concept for any author to tackle, but Church does about as well as anyone could wish. Inspector O (who I first came across through Church's short blog posts on 38 North) is a fine match for any noir protagonist, and though the twisting, violent plot can be hard to follow (even for those who've done some research on North Korean politics and history), it has a pitch-perfect atmosphere...not least because of the high body count by the ...more
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 police procedural, l ...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
Nov 19, 2013 Mark rated it liked it
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
Mar 07, 2012 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 28, 2016 Suzy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Has a similar obscurity of what the heck is going on that I find in John Le Carre novels. Biting humor from Inspector O about his circumstances in Communist North Korea, but none of the occasionally lighthearted humor of the coroner in The Coroner's Lunch series by Colin Cotterill set in Laos in the 70s. Chap 3 pg 13 "No, he needs to answer my question." I recognized the tone of voice. It was like the tip of a whip being dragged slowly back along the floor, just before it cracked through the air ...more
Kn Chin-griffin
Aug 25, 2015 Kn Chin-griffin rated it liked it
Not bad. The book is a bit choppy. The timeline is confusing as heck. *Spoilers ahead.*

The story needs a little more fleshing out. More but brief descriptives, perhaps, of the settings in the various locations of North Korea. Assuming someone has good geographical knowledge of the DPRK was not a good idea. Assuming anyone has any idea of DPRK government departmental infrastructure and the politics within wasn't good either. The corpse really didn't matter and neither did it matter if it was at t
Ruben Varona
Jul 25, 2014 Ruben Varona rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Corpse in the Koryo is the first book in the Inspector O series. Inspector O is a North Korean police officer silently railing against the system, yet forced to do just enough to keep himself out of a prison camp. Inspector O is first sent on a mysterious job where he is told to photograph a car coming out of a tunnel, when and if that car ever appears. Fast forward to the discovery of an unidentified man with false Finnish identification papers, found at the Koryo, the main luxury hotel in Py ...more
Aug 25, 2007 Jack rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
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.
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.
Jarkko Laine
When I noticed this book at the library, I had no choice but to pick it up: a detective story taking place in North Korea, written by an actual expert (James Church is a pseudonym for an intelligence agent, they say, so if that's true, he should know what he's writing about). That was too interesting to pass.

So, how was the novel?

Pretty good, if not quite as good as I was hoping.

The environment and atmosphere are great and elegantly described. It makes me believe this story is actually taking p
Aug 28, 2010 Spencer rated it it was ok
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.
Benjamin Worwa
Un misterio con un desenlace decepcionante que es soportable sólo por el carisma y desarrollo del personaje principal.
Jun 11, 2007 Daniel rated it it was ok
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
The novel follows Inspector O as he recounts his story of uncovering the plot behind a series of events he unwittingly finds himself in. He works for the North Korean Ministry of People's Security but Inspector O must rely on his own survival instincts and intelligence alongside assistance from political allies and his grandfather's political legacy.

Inspector O himself has no real emotional reactions to events and is a malcontent at heart who challenges the status quo. The atmosphere of life in
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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 (6 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)
  • The Gentleman from Japan (Inspector O, #6)

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