The Frozen Woman by Jon Michelet, trans. Don Bartlett, Oldcastle Books
My initial impressions of Jon Michelet’s novel from my notes: ‘Sleek, well-constructed thriller cum detective investigation. Good characters, good descriptions of place, more than competent ability to keep those characters visible and recognizable, and referrals to back-stories intriguing and well done (viz. Comme neige [Like Snow]). His palette is broad: bikers (not so petty criminals), cops (investigators Stribolt and Vaage), former cops (Vilhelm Thygesen, left-wing lawyer, civilians (the frozen woman). The walk-on parts are sudden, moving, and then over.
There was nothing for it: I bought the previous Thygesen (already translated into French) because I’m keen to meet Thygesen again soon….’ But after writing thses notes, I saw that Michelet had just died. Somebody had already rewritten the Wikipedia entry, but not with a lot of new information.  I had wanted to write to tell him how impressive I found his writing, even in translation (thank you, Don Bartlett). Or, as one of my teachers said to me long ago, We fill the car with petrol without a moment’s hesitation, but we hesitate before a book. So, readers of Crime Time, let us be led into temptation.
Star of the North by D. B. John, Harvill Secker  D. B. John has seen an opportunity, since there seem not to be a lot of thrillers set in North Korea, with a female protagonist, connected to American Espionage, not to mention elite spies trained to kill. The book has a number of familiar scenes, and summons up settings of secret labour camps from which there is no escape. (Except sometimes.) The secret camps seem to have been inspired by the Nazis, and there are certainly medics testing nerve agents—so publishing this book now has evident advantages.
However, John claims his observations of North Korea as a brief-sojourn tourist, which is not often the best way in to a surveillance state unless you’re Graham Greene. He has charming views about the elderly poor women traders in country markets, as well as about the police who watch them closely and collect their bribes. At a much higher level, cadres serve the Kims, and he offers brief-sojourn (in New York) visits by some of those cadres to set up trade possibilities. Actually, some of those ‘possibilities’ seem to be contributions to the U.S. opioid crisis, and some of the delegation are building fortunes for themselves by smuggling. There are a number of persecuted Christians along the way, for reasons never clarified.
    So, I’d say this was an opportunity to seize some new space by a relatively new author. I’d also have to say that—at least in these early days–John doesn’t write very well, and readers will have to balance his collection of thriller stereotypes against the lumpiness of his prose. Just one example will do: one of those high cadres I mentioned is imprisoned, but manages to escape, at least for a short time. He drives himself to a bridge, climbs onto the barriers, and jumps, thinking as he falls to his death that for the first time, he understands everything.
    It is worth mentioning that John’s territory is not his alone, and that the pseudonymous ‘James Church’ has written half a dozen police procedurals set in North Korea (which he knows from his own experience), with his protagonist, ‘Inspector O’. These books vary, and some of them are very odd (some would say weird), but they’re written by somebody who has experience of North Korea and who writes well.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This