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Bamboo and Blood

(Inspector O #3)

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  504 ratings  ·  75 reviews

The critically acclaimed A Corpse in the Koryo brought readers into the enigmatic workings of North Korean intelligence with the introduction of a new kind of detective---the mysterious Inspector O. In the follow-up, Hidden Moon, O threaded his way through the minefield of North Korean ministries into a larger conspiracy he was never supposed to touch.

Now the inspe

Kindle Edition, 304 pages
Published (first published November 25th 2008)
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Average rating 3.72  · 
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 ·  504 ratings  ·  75 reviews

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Jan 11, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
i don't know, james church's novels just keep getting more and more weird and nightmarishly noir. i liked his first one best, "a corpse in the koryo", but then again, all are very compelling. i like his descriptions of the natural environment, people, and buildings better though. which may kind of defeat the point, as its all about what's inside his characters' heads.
Patrick Sherriff
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-and-such
Inspector O has become something of a regular fixture for me these last two months. Since subscribing to Audible, I've listened to the first in the series, A Corpse in the Koryo, and now this, the third (I'd read the second, Hidden Moon a few years back) and while I have to grit my teeth as I listen to the full-throated-all-American narration, which frankly seems a jarring choice of voice actor (since our hero and first person narrator is a North Korean cop), still I look forward to the end of t ...more
Oct 22, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
James Church's third Inspector O novel just doesn't quite deliver the goods. It starts out fine, blending Hard-boiled noir (Hammett/Chandler) with international political thriller (le Carré/Steinhauer) all mixed with a bit/dash of Hemingway.

Where Hemingway was fixated on food, wine and women, Church fixates on lack of food, the cold and wood. It all works, if you can ignore the sloppy pacing that creeps into the end of the novel. The novel's first 3/4 seems fine, not exceptional, but interesting
Jan 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the winter of 1997, people are dying from famine in North Korea. Inspector O is ordered to investigate, but not solve, the death of a diplomat's wife in a Pakistan. His job is to compile lists and put them in a folder and forget about them, and to stay away from anything to do with missiles.

He is helped/hindered/followed by an assortment of oddities - Sohn, a senior official from another security agency, Jeno, the Mossad agent from Switzerland, M. Beret, the head of Swiss counterintelligence
Sep 27, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
While at times very clever, its convoluted, vague and overcomplicated plot put me to sleep every time I tried to read it! The olpt seemed almost pointless.
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Amazing mystery series with a hero who is a North Korean secret police officer attempting to live and generally let live, within reason, within the superbyzantine world of Pyongyang bureaucracy.
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is a reason this book starts with a rather unusual note: “Many of the events mentioned in this story actually happened, though not necessarily at the time, in the sequence, or exactly in the way they swirl around Inspector O. For that reason, and many others, this book is a work of fiction.” If the first two novels in the series are not precisely situated in time—they could have happened in 2006-2007, but as well in 2016-2017—this third one has the unfortunate choice of taking place “In th ...more
Mal Warwick
James Church’s Bamboo and Blood is one of the most unusual detective novels you’ll ever come across. Opening in a frigid North Korean winter in 1997, the story revolves around the hapless Inspector O and his unhappy boss, Chief Inspector Pak of the Ministry of Public Security, described in the novel as the police. Kim Jong-Il stepped into his father’s shoes as dictator upon the old man’s death only three years earlier, and the Communist Party and the Army are still vying for ascendancy in the po ...more
Rowena Hoseason
May 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Idiosyncratic, offbeat and intriguing, the Inspector O series wraps a murder-mystery in political intrigue with a captivating central character at its core.
This is the third novel in the Inspector O series. New readers are advised to start with ‘A Corpse in the Koryo’ rather than trying to get to grips with O’s character and his particularly peculiar situation all at once. The earlier books have been rather more traditional whodunnits, set in communist North Korea with O as an eccentric detecti
This was a mildly frustrating book. It is so well written, I like O's character so much, and it does such an excellent if low-key job of showing what life must be like in North Korea, (this time, set during the great famine of 1997, making the book even more depressing and cynical than A Corpse in the Koryo).

But at the same time, I have to agree with many of the other reviews of both this book and Koryo. Most of the characters in both books speak with the same clever/ironic/cynical voice, so tha
Jan 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
James Church's series of North Korean Police Detective Inspector O is something of an anomoly in the world of detective fiction. Here we have a keen-eyed detective whose field of expertise is not so much citizen-on-citizen violence as government-on-citizen violence. While Inspector O is a patriot of uncommon fidelity, the angle from which we view his mind working is not so much internal as external. We, as facilitated by the author Church, are watching Inspector O make decisions and we are makin ...more
Jessica Howard
Mar 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
Set in North Korea in 1997, this book tells the story of Inspector O, a thoughtful and introverted man, trying to maneuver his way through the complicated politics and silences of the North Korean Ministry. The bleak winter reflects the bleak attitude of most of the people in North Korea, who are struggling merely to stay alive while O struggles to discover who killed a woman, when he doesn't even know where or how she died.

His mysterious assignment to discover who killed the unknown woman lead
Jul 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thrillers
James Church's Inspector O is one of the most interesting characters in literature today. A police inspector in North Korea, this story follows O's earlier career and is set in 1997 against the backdrop of the famine that was hitting North Korea at the time. He is assigned to investigate the death of a North Korean diplomat's wife, but it's made clear he shouldn't get TOO close to finding out what happened. He ends up being assigned to keep an eye on an Israeli who is interested in the DPRK's nu ...more
Sep 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another interesting mystery set in North Korea in the capital city of Pyongyang. Inspector O works for the Ministry of Public Security and in this book the entire country is grinding to a halt due to a widespread famine leaving even those who are working with empty bellies much of the time. Procedures and processes in NK are so foreign that they could well take place on Mars, and this story gets extremely confusing at times as O must deal with intrigue and espionage, the death of a diplomat's wi ...more
North Korea, winter 1997, and people are dying from famine. There is not enough electricity to heat the offices, little fuel for the cars and an over-riding feeling of despair. Inspector O is ordered to investigate, but not solve, the death of a diplomat's wife in Pakistan. His job is to compile lists, put them in a folder and forget about them. And then he is sent to Geneva.

It's an odd novel – a little bit Noir (the scenes in Geneva read with The Third Man theme playing in my head) and I never
May 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very unique setting, a police Inspector in Pyongyang, North Korea. All the reviews of this book took about Church’s sparse prose. I am not sure it is sparse but maybe obscure. There are a lots of comings and goings and Inspector O is in the middle, escorting an Israeli with lots of cash to run down munitions sites, traveling to New York and Geneva to give metaphoric messages to unspecified people. Turkish émigrés punch people. A man from Inspector O’s past who was blown up in a botched ...more
Dec 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my second James Church book. I cannot remember where I found out about him, but no matter, he is a fascinating writer. His characters, despite their total foreignness to most of us, are formed as rapidly as those of Graham Green and are treated just as sympathetically. Though his view of life in North Korea is said to reflect his own deep knowledge, in a sad sort of way it coincides with that generally held in the West about that unfortunate country. nevertheless, he paints a wonderful p ...more
B. Factor
This is the novel where James Church betrayed Inspector O for the promise of a movie contract. The Inspector O of A Corpse in the Koryo was an incorruptible North Korean patriot who understood but did not endorse the failings of his leadership. He could not have been tempted by Western flesh. In Bamboo and Blood, he sleeps with the daughter of an Israeli spy on an important diplomatic trip to Geneva. Now you may be wondering what a low-level police inspector would be doing on an important diplom ...more
Jul 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: espionage
A very well written book which gives insight into life in North Korea. The book is written in the first person and has very good dialogue--some very funny sarcasm from a cynical cop. Rather than a police procedural, it is closer to an espionage novel dealing with the internal and external complexities of North Korea's missile trade.
The author is retired from the US Intelligence community where North Korea must have been his focus. He writes with a comfortable confidence which adds to the pleas
Jul 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Bamboo and Blood" is the first Inspector O novel that I've read even though it is the third in the series. Each book seems pretty self-contained as long as you don't mind jumping around the Inspector O time-line when reading out of order.

Please don't judge this book by the title. This is not some dime-a-dozen murder mystery. James Church creates a film noir inspired world set in North Korea. It is a detective's tail guided by North Korean bureaucracy, corruption, ideology, and undertones of for
Vikas Datta
May 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An intriguing look into a super secretive and paranoid but hugely deprived society and high-level hijinks where no one, whom our battered protagonist meets, are what they seem to be - that Swiss counter-intelligence chief is a marvellous character.... Starts slowly but builds up to high-octane action. Look forward to reading others in the series...
Oct 12, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is just a difficult book to follow. I prefer more plot, less meandering. I really wanted to like it, but in the end I think a 3 rating is generous.
I loved the first book in the series, and liked the second one, but I really struggled with this book. It took me forever to read and was vague to the point of me becoming frustrated.

The book takes place during a famine, probably the one in the late 90s, although it doesn't seem like the earlier books took place during that same era. Inspector O is assigned to gather as much info as he can about a North Korean woman who died, possibly in Pakistan. He's sent off to China, and then to New York, al
Seth Isenberg
Oct 08, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller
Another thrilling Kafka-esque detective novel. The background of the macro events in North Korea have a strong affect on the story this time around. I enjoyed the international flavor of this one, but the surrounding characters towards the last third of the book lead the story into farcical territory. While it was still enjoyable, I felt it to be a bit off tonally from the rest of the book and the two that preceded it. When in North Korea, it makes sense that motives and intent are constantly ob ...more
Jul 27, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this third story in the Inspector O series I found myself interested only in the famine of the mid 1990s in North Korea. I found myself with the help of a friend looking up and reading articles about what happened in North Korea upon the ascendancy of Kim Jung Il. The 1990s were terrible times for the people of North Korea. Inspector O becomes involved in some sort of spy activity and the plot of the story was difficult to figure out. I am not sure that I will continue with this series.
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Maybe 2.5 stars.

The prose was more florid, the plot more convoluted, the conversations more frustratingly oblique, and the herrings 1000% redder.

There were some worthwhile parts, some poetic passages, a few new glimpses into North Korea during the famine, but overall, nowhere near as good as "A corpse in the Koryo".
Aug 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3rd in a series of 4 (so far) Inspector O N. Korean novels; this one involves travels to US and Switzerland; more intriguing, more humor, still too wordy. I kept at it but it was not one I easily picked up at night…, still I also didn’t put it down. Hardback, purchased via,
Mar 19, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There aren’t many detective stories are that take place in North Korea. This was good, but at the end I was still confused about what happened and why. Lies and secrets as a state of being in North Korea?
Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
Enigmatic is definitely the right word for the events in this book. I think I understand what happened in the end. I certainly enjoyed the journey.
3 1/2 stars. Very interesting as to reading about North Korea, but sometimes Church is a little too oblique.
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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, bein ...more

Other books in the series

Inspector O (6 books)
  • A Corpse in the Koryo (Inspector O, #1)
  • Hidden Moon (Inspector O, #2)
  • 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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