• Christopher G. Moore

Trolling the deep waters in war zones

Two writers who set mysteries in foreign settings that you should read: James Church and Matt Beynon Rees.

Sarah Weinman is one of the most thoughtful and insightful crime fiction critics, and if you’re not reading her Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind you are missing a gem of a website. Recently Sarah interviewed James Church who writes a series set in North Korea with features police inspector O. I’ve read A Corpse in the Koryo and highly recommend it. Only someone with first hand information about North Korea could hope to produce a book with such splendid details about the functioning of the bureaucracy and working relationship among the North Koreans living in a totalitarian state. Church is direct about what he sees as the keys involved in understanding the country: “North Korea is a bureaucracy, it is Asian, and it is a totalitarian state inhabited by human beings.”

Church, who was prior to his retirement in the intelligence game (James Church isn’t his real name) said in an interview with Sarah Weinman, “Not to mince words, Western media treatment of North Korea has generally been pathetic. “Lazy” and “intellectually bankrupt” also come to mind. Too many reporters and editors love to fall back on “it was a dark and stormy night” journalism when it comes to writing about the country. If one cannot figure out what to say, spill some ink talking about how the North is a mysterious place, a black hole of absurd behavior, a Stalinist Disneyland.”

I recommend that you read Sarah’s interview with James Church:

Matt Beynon Rees is another author who knows the territory, the people, and the nature of the personal conflicts that separate them. Matt’s turf is Palestine, and his novels are brim with people caught in the vice of poverty, tribal and clan conflict, and facing the constant possibility of violence. He brings Palestine to life. And that is no easy thing.

Matt Rees writes one of my favourite mystery series starring, Omar Yussef, a 57-year-old history teacher, who lives and works in Palestine. The best fiction demystifies the political and social turmoil of a region in conflict.

One of Matt’s Omar Yussef mysteries does more to take a person into the day-to-day reality of the lives of people in Gaza than a library of newspaper and magazine analysis of Middle East politics. Ultimately understanding countries like the Palestine and North Korea are tied to their history, language, enemies, and traditions. The reality of such a country becomes understandable through emotional lens of the people who live there. Matt channels the sensibility of Graham Greene in this series, building a picture of a time and place that stays with you long after you finish the book.

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