Nightmare Range: sleaze and spirituality in South Korea

NightmareRangeThis anthology of short stories serves as an ideal introduction to the world of Sueño and Bascome, American army investigators serving in South Korea during the 1970s. If you enjoy Martin Limón’s full-length novels then these mini-mysteries will be a welcome to return to the sweltering, sex-soaked streets of the Ville, where servicemen spend their R&R hours and their dollars, where black marketeers seek to turn a shilling on every transaction, and where working girls are so very often the victims of indiscriminate violence.

Limón is a gifted writer, capable of dragging the reader into this exotic, intimidating and at time painfully poignant environment with minimal explanation or introduction. Sueño and Bascombe are military policemen, investigating crimes which involve Americans, from black-market sales of goods from the base, to the assault or murder of Korean nationals which may have a US involvement.

While Bascombe stays firmly in the background in this collection – acting as muscle when required, little more than that – we get to know Sueño in some depth, a man motivated by his own morality and a sense of respect for the local population. When other investigators may be too careless or too corrupt to bother resolving a case, Sueño is typically driven to establish the truth of the matter. He’s no saint – and just as likely to spend a wild night in town with the girls as the next serviceman – but each of these stories reveals his sensitivity to the victim’s plight. He’s one of the few who tries to understand the culture and society surrounding him, and through him Limón reveals the substantial impact of the permanent foreign army which keeps the northern enemy at bay.

So with accomplished craft, Limón constructs separate stories which both serve to illustrate and explain the tensions of that situation, and which contain a compelling investigation, a mystery for Sueño to solve. Often he cannot bring the perpetrator to justice – this is a situation rife with violence and corruption – and many of these tales present a bleak and depressing interpretation of the human condition. Some are challenging or unsettling; others grim but morally satisfying. It’s to Limón’s credit that he achieves in a short story what many authors struggle to accomplish in an entire novel. The military details and the aura of authenticity about the place, period and situation feels entirely credible.

These stories weren’t written for one anthology, however, and were originally published elsewhere. Necessarily then they repeat the background info, and they share a tone and tempo which can become a little over-powering if you read them all at once. Best to read them in between other books, to ensure that each episode retains its full impact.

8/10

Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason

Nightmare Range by Martin Limón is available as an ebook or paperback

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