Chapter by Chapter features me reading one chapter of the selected book at the time and reviewing it as if I were reviewing an episode of a TV show or an issue of a comic. There will be spoilers if you haven’t read to the point I have, and if you’ve read further I ask that you don’t spoil anything further into the book. Think of it as read-along book club.
I just realized how little has actually happened in 39 chapters, and not just because of the weird chapter pacing. A lot of set-up for the new novel series is coming into play, with histories of characters we’ll come to know as the series goes on. It’s just that they’re not very likable histories that make the characters look like jerks and it’s taking too much focus away from the more interesting story in Korea. We are now halfway through the novel and I’m only barely entertained, but only when we get away from the characters of the title grouping. I’d rather see Gregory Donald meeting with North Korea while the extremists work to get the right to kill each other in a war than whatever’s going on with the nimrods Paul Hood has to work with. How are we going to fare in this trio?
- Chapter 40: Tuesday, 11:25 PM, Seoul: five pages
- Chapter 41: Tuesday, 9:30 AM, The White House: five pages
- Chapter 42: Tuesday, 11:40 PM, Seoul: two pages
I’d rather two pages in the White House…or none given how little I care about the American cast at this point besides Gregory, but at least we still have more in the actual story than in the annoying part.
Now here’s competency for you. We have our first girl Kim (Kim is not usually a boy’s name in the US you know), a piano player who is secretly a spy for the North, using a musical code to send messages through her piano playing at a bar. When she’s found out she knows (or thinks she does) the easy escape route…only to find out her boss is well aware of what the spies do in his bar (a singer and a bartender preceded her) and he’s working for Hwan. Here you have good guys and bad guys all competent in their job; it’s just the good guys had the upper hand on this one. There’s also talk about how certain spies do a terrible job of playing their parts when they come in under different identities. For the record, girl Kim grew up listening to Western music when she and her brother found some 45 records (that’s an RPM speed on the record player, not a count of records–for you younger folks since I think only the 33s have made it back in the new age of vinyl comeback) and I think they’re either holding her brother hostage or she can’t find him for some other reason. However, she hates South Korea so she’s not exactly being forced to betray anyone, just to do this job.
Meanwhile, the US continues to mess things up. After some Hezbollah attack at the Hollywood Bowl–wait, Lebanese terrorists attacked Hollywood and they’ve been sitting on it for seven months, but after the DPRK shoots at one of the US spy planes over their territory and the pilot dies THIS is what the President wants to make a move on? Sure, WE know it’s a set-up by the nutcases so they can resume killing each other and they don’t but this is what Laurence wants to move fast on despite no other evidence the North is doing anything? What? Also, his National Security Chief is his cousin who is happy to use that to make himself look good to everyone else, so I’m wondering if the author actually hates the US government at this point. Paul Hood is the closest thing to a likable person in these ranks.
There’s also a little too much time spent on history. Do we really need to know the previous President was called a racist during talks to curb riots because he was worried about black riots? The Rodney King riots was only a few years before this book came out, and that was along racial lines. We also had the Ferguson riots recently as I write this review. It shouldn’t be assumed that all or even most riots are race-motivated but clearly there are parties happy to keep the race war going and violent when possible, so while it shouldn’t be the top concern it can’t be denied either. Of course we aren’t privy to the actual conversation (although given how much unnecessary trivia is in this chapter I’d be surprised if it wasn’t in an earlier draft) so maybe the way he said it could be considered racist. Either way…WHO CARES? This is a story about a bombing in South Korea! I don’t care that the President’s desk is reclaimed wood from a famous wrecked cruise ship or whatever it came from. Stick to the darn plot and don’t make me spend more time with these jackasses than I have to! Can we go back to Korea now?
Never mind, nothing really happens here. Gregory has more memories of Soonji, including the conversation that he introduced himself with, a rather boring account of how the British and French ambassadors argued over who got to use the official hearse when both of them lost someone close to them at the same time, which I think is also meant to show that both of them allowing him first access for Soonji shows the respect he’s earned but after the previous chapter I just didn’t care. Also the burden for the meeting is no longer on his General friend but on himself and Op-Center after Herbert’s call. It would be okay if not for the previous chapter’s unnecessary trivia, but at least the only likeable types are guys we didn’t meet. Either way the dead woman is more interesting than the living US government, and I have to ask again if this is anti-government somehow.
I really wish this book had just stuck with the Korea investigation. I think this would have cut half the book out and it’s the half I really don’t care about. We’ll see next week how much more I have to deal with.