|Again, we are fortunate to have Condorena share with us her review of Martin Limon’s JADE LADY BURNING. Condorena is a physician who lives on the east coast.|
JADE LADY BURNING by Martin Limón
“Ernie and I finished the black-market case in Pusan, did a little celebrating, and caught the Blue Line night train back to Seoul.”
But this book is about more than two GI’s and the high life in Korea.
What appears to be a ritual murder of a young Korean prostitute has the Eighth Army command very jittery. In an investigation that should have been left to the Korean police the military police are called in because the young woman was known to have many clients amongst the American servicemen stationed in and around Seoul. The Korean media would have a field day with this American angle, so the Eighth Army’s criminal investigation division takes charge. Sergeants George Sueño and Ernie Bascom are put in charge of finding out who murdered the young woman. Needless to say he is good at his job and you just know he is going to solve the murder of Miss Pak that every one else is trying to brush under the rug, the army and Korean police alike.
Their investigation leads them to Itaewon, the section of Seoul known for alcohol, music and prostitution. It is the type neighborhood with which the two are very familiar. Sueño is Hispanic, from East LA. George and both he and his partner Eddie prefer the life in Korea to that in Southern California. Sueño appreciates the housing, the regular meals, and the pay of Army life. He speaks some Korean and appreciates the culture. This is probably because he sees the country differently than most, and is impressed by the fact that life in Korea is a hard fight to survive:
“I loved Korea. It was a whole new world of different tastes and smells, and a different, more intense way of looking at life. People here didn’t take eating and breathing for granted. They were fought for.”
Sueño has learned Korean (somewhat), and he is young, not too attracted to older women yet, ahem age 30!! He doesn’t look down on the business women (prostitutes) because as he says, he makes $500. per month and gets food and lodging and they make $30. per month and nothing is free. The author paints a sympathetic portrait of the women who are forced to make their living on the streets and in the clubs of the nightlife of Seoul.
It becomes clear to Sueño that the only reason for such a crime to be glossed over is because it must involve powerful people. So even though both the Korean National Police and the American forces are content to let the blame lie on the GI boyfriend because this would bring a rapid resolution to the case, George Sueño, while no angel himself, feels he has a responsibility to those who are the innocents in the case and he continues to pursue the truth and Eddie will go along with him.
Martin Limón has a spare very evocative style and the characters are very real, cynical and intense. The good guys are flawed as well as the bad guys and his portrayal of the military and military police is truthful and insightful.