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The Man with the Baltic Stare

(Inspector O #4)

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  337 ratings  ·  49 reviews
From the author of the critically acclaimed Inspector O series comes another riveting novel set in the mysterious world of North Korea
Autumn brings unwelcome news to Inspector O: he has been wrenched from retirement and ordered back to Pyongyang for a final assignment. The two Koreas, he learns, are now cooperating—very quietly—to maintain stability in the North. Stabilit
Kindle Edition, 288 pages
Published (first published August 10th 2010)
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Average rating 3.81  · 
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 ·  337 ratings  ·  49 reviews

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Oct 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is something delicious and pleasurable about these dark mystery/thrillers by James Church. The characters are all fuzzy around the edges - you never know all about them - who is on whose side. These books to me are like dark chocolate. A little bitter, but wonderful.

Inspector O is a wonderful character. Wonderfully sketched out with a great back story - but you still know very little about him. He is very politic, knows how to exist in such a closed society, but also manages to get justice
Nov 06, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a weird one. Reading it was like a traffic accident...I couldn't take my eyes off it. I obviously found it interesting, because I continued to read it and finished it, but I'm still not quite sure what the hell happened. I'm unsure of what the main plot was, why anything that happened in the book happened, and the ending was deeply unsatisfying-yet I found it endlessly fascinating and I loved the characters. Weird. ...more
Mal Warwick
In the closing years of the past decade, beginning in 2008, North Korea began descending into chaos as its dictator, Kim Jong-Il, fell gravely ill. His youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, then only in his mid-twenties, began to emerge as the heir apparent, crowding aside not just his older brothers but the senior officials who wanted to end the Kim dynasty and seize power themselves. The outside world learned few of the details about the power struggle underway, but it was clearly ferocious and led to co ...more
Pep Bonet
Sep 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
I had read another book about the stories of Inspector O and had felt a bit icy. I couldn't well penetrate the character (or Church's writing). It was nice, interesting, but that's all. I read some comments about the present one and had reasonable doubts about starting to read it. But I did it and I'm happy I did. It was very interesting. You understand close to nothing, because Church keeps on hiding information, but tou are fully immersed in an almost surreal world. More than the plot, which e ...more
Oct 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
Church FINALLY fixed his pacing problem with 'the Man with the Baltic Stare'. This novel was a lot better than Bamboo and Blood. It may even be better than his first one (although Corpse in the Koryo gets originality points). Anyway, it redeemed the Inspector O series for me.

Church is as strong a writer as Olen Steinhauer, just working a different geography. All the blurbing, however, about how he is the next le Carré is about 20+ amazing books premature. I don't think ANYONE will be the next l
Aug 27, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
James Church's fictional character, Inspector O continues to confuse, educate, enteratin, and frustrate me. This novel is perhaps the most unrealistic confusing one of the four I have read. And yet, the combination of intrigue with a look into a political system I know little about keeps me coming back for more. I'm not sure I know anyone else who would continue to read this series. ...more
I am angry at the author. Very angry and also unhappy. He managed to spoil everything he accomplished with the first three books in the series. I won't insert true spoilers, only generic info that won't reveal anything crucial.

Inspector O is now 68 years old, retired in special conditions in 2011, a year before the official retirement. The idiocy is that, living on a mountaintop for five years, he's disconnected from the realities of whatever happens in North Korea. And no, he hasn't lost his fu
I was excited to notice the latest, book four, in the series; however, it’s down right bizarre, perplexing, absurd, and inscrutable. We don’t understand the relation of the title until page 214 or so. The reader never knows where we are headed in this book. O is summoned from his mountaintop exile to investigate a case that perhaps, shouldn’t be investigated. Powerful forces at work from both inside and outside the Hermit Kingdom striving for control of its future and O, who seeks the Middle Pat ...more
Geoff. Lamb
Jan 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Inspector O remains as spikey and untrusting as ever. And well traveled. His mountaintop retreat is his home, or is it? The joy in reading, and in re-reading some pages, of these Inspector O novels is as much or more for his introspection, for the comments and stories unrelated to the mystery at hand. Highly recommended, The Man with the Baltic Stare and the Inspector O series. Do begin with the first book in the series, A Corpse in the Koryo. The books may be read out of order, but there is a n ...more
Dec 26, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the 4th in a series about Inspector O, a criminal investigator in North Korea. Everything there is political, and quite muddled. The author is supposed to be a diplomat with a lot of knowledge about North Korea. If the author's view of that country is correct, there is one inescapable fact: no one really knows what's happening there. If you've read the first 3 in the series, you might as well read this one. ...more
Vikas Datta
Jun 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Another breathless tale of confused courses of action, conflicting loyalties, elaborate deceptions and people and things certainly not being what they seem...
Jul 30, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
These are getting too weird.
Dan Downing
Jun 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
With this behind me, I have one Inspector O left on the shelf. I'll have to explore to see if there are more out there. Certainly, they would be worthwhile. As with the previous titles and the present one, they will be carefully crafted, with many things implied more than said. Church's (pseudonym) writing is as the plots: carefully crafted with sly undertones. And let us not forget funny, sometimes laugh out loud funny, always amusing funny. Inspector O has a way with sarcasm and insult.
One fi
Seth Isenberg
Sep 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller
Much better than his previous effort, Bamboo and Blood, Church opens with a retired Inspector O, dragged back to service under vague and mysterious circumstances. This is par for the course for any regular readers of the series, where no order or no conversation is ever straightforward. However, this story veers in different directions than the previous three books, in the best possible way. While each book had plenty to say about the history, current state, and future of DPRK, this book (and In ...more
Mike Pollack
Meh- started off fairly interesting then after the 1st part (1/3) it didnt capture my attention very much. I liked the personality of O (main character) but found the story line to be a bit disjointed. Another reviewer put it correctly- you don't really know much about the characters or what the main plot is so it leaves you unfulfilled. Perhaps I should have started with the first in the O series. ...more
Feb 01, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had such high hopes! Fascinating setting, wry writing... thought it would be another Dr. Siri series. But alas, a chaotic story with too much talking and not enough action. I'll give the series one more try. ...more
Dead John Williams
Oct 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian
Set in North Korea but written before it was demonised. A simple crime procedural set in the background of the shifting power play. Nothing special, just well written, intriguing, slightly opaque, and very readable.
Apr 26, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime, korea
As much as I love this quirky series, volume 4 was slow going.
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
These books are for readers who can enjoy slow build up, dry humor and deliberate pace.
Jul 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: a-fict, series, mystery
Another fascinating, convoluted story of Inspector O, life, and politics in North Korea
Mac Kie
Jan 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Inspector O is aging more gracefully than DI Rebus?
Sep 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book
I started this series over Christmas (2017), and this was my summer (2018) installment. Church's novels focus on a (now-retired) North Korean police inspector who previously served in the North Korean intelligence service. If you enjoyed Martin Cruz Smith's novels about Soviet-era detective Arkady Renko, you just may enjoy this series. In the Man with the Baltic Stare, Inspector O leaves North Korea for the first time since prior to the first novel. This novel was clearly written with the transi ...more
This is my first time listening to the audio of this series. I am a great fan of Inspector O, and of James Church for imagining this character and his life. It is a truly unique mystery/spy series set in North Korea in the same way that Colin Cotterill’s Di. Siri Paiboun series takes a look at Laos in a different way. The fact that an old man is the center of each of these series gives the reader a long-range perspective and their sense of humor and justice. A young man would be confused and pro ...more
Zeb Kantrowitz

To say that this book is bizarre is to be making an understatement. To begin with, during the book at least three different characters mention that what is going on is Kafka-esque. That would be true if Kafka was an impressionist and we all know that he didn’t do impressions. That gives you an idea of what the book is like. Think of Kafka writing a book about Zen and the sound of one foot tapping on a sponge.

It takes at least half of the book before you (or me) realize that the book is set in th
Jun 15, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
North Korean police detective, Inspector O, has spent five years in exile on his mountain when he is coerced into returning to “investigate” a murder in Macao. As usual in this series, nothing is as it seems and, far from learning the truth of the murder, his task is to cover it up. The book is difficult to get into because most of the first third of it is taken up with the inspector being cranky. It mystifies me how a character can remain so enigmatic writing in the first person.
It is difficul
Edwin Battistella
In The Man with the Baltic Stare James Church brings the wily but mystified Inspector O down from his mountaintop retreat and out of retirement with this story set in 2016. O is a wonderful character—part nourish detective, part good soldier Schweik, part a Kafka protagonist who would not be out of place on The Office (if you can imagine it set on North Korea). The idea is that by 2016 North Korea has now become so tenuous that the Chinese and South Koreans are both trying to take over the Japan ...more
Jan 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed the first three books in this series featuring Inspector O, in the unconventional mystery setting of North Korea. It was definitely a case of culture shock at first, although I loved the rather curmudgeonly, lateral-thinking O from the start. This book, which takes place several years after events in the third book, took me a very long time to get into. Inspector O had retired to a hermit-like life on top of a mountain, but several political factions were determined to un-re ...more
Jan 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My feelings about this book are as confused as the difference between a maze and a labyrinth.

A maze is a complex with many paths with different choices and directions. A labyrinth has also different choices of directions, but it is a single path leading to a center. A labyrinth is always leading to a center, but not a maze.
At first when I began the book I thought I had entered a maze as I tried to follow who was doing what, and where and especially why? There are North Koreans, South Koreans, Ch
Feb 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Inspector O has been retired on a mountain top for 5 years when he is called back to Pyongyang for a special assignment - one that he doesn't want. The state of things has changed while he was gone - there are factions working for closer ties with South Korea, and factions opposing. Chinese forces are in the country to prevent a collapse, or perhaps to keep the south out.

The young man who is the potential next leader of the North seems to have committed a murder in Macao, killing a prostitute an
Apr 06, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book I picked up of the displays at the library. Apparently the author uses an assumed name to write and publish his books under. He knows his stuff about North Korea and intelligence. I had a hard time following the characters in this book. I chalk that up to the lack of understanding of the culture on my part. Of course all secret intelligence agencies have undercover, and even more undercover stuff going on and trying to dig to the real heart of the matter can be difficult. I felt t ...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, bein ...more

Other books in the series

Inspector O (6 books)
  • A Corpse in the Koryo (Inspector O, #1)
  • Hidden Moon (Inspector O, #2)
  • Bamboo and Blood (Inspector O, #3)
  • A Drop of Chinese Blood (Inspector O, #5)
  • The Gentleman from Japan (Inspector O, #6)

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