Cover image for The iron sickle
The iron sickle
Limón, Martin, 1948-
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Publication Information:
New York, NY : Soho Crime, [2014]

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308 pages ; 22 cm.
The head of the 8th United States Army Claims Office in Seoul, South Korea, is brutally murdered by a Korean man in a trench coat with a small iron sickle hidden in his sleeve. The attack is a complete surprise, carefully planned and clinically executed. How did this unidentified Korean civilian get onto the tightly controlled US Army base? And why attack the claims officer--is there an unsettled grudge, a claim of damages that was rejected by the US Army? Against orders, CID agents George Sueño and Ernie Bascom start to investigate.
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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Early one rainy morning, the head of the 8th United States Army Claims Office in Seoul, South Korea, is brutally murdered by a Korean man in a trench coat carrying a small iron sickle hidden in his sleeve. The attack was a complete surprise, carefully planned and clinically executed. Against orders, CID agents Sergeant George Sueno and Ernie Bascom start investigating. Somehow, each person they speak to has not yet been interviewed. The 8th Army isn't great at solving cases, but they aren't that bad either. As the search continues, they realise not everyone wants the case solved.

Author Notes

Martin Limón  retired from military service after twenty years in the US Army, including ten years in Korea. He is the author of numerous books in the Sueño and Bascom series, including the  New York Times  Notable  Jade Lady Burning ,  Slicky Boys ,  The Iron Sickle ,  Nightmare Range , and  The Ville Rat . He lives near Seattle.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The peacetime army offers a rich setting for crime fiction life in a legendarily inflexible bureaucracy and Limon has exploited it superbly in his long-running series starring Sergeants George Sueno and Ernie Bascom, which takes place in Korea in the 1970s. This time the two CID officers face an unusually complex case. The head of the 8th Army Claims Office in Seoul, a unit that handles charges of wrongdoing by the army against Korean citizens, has been brutally murdered by an assailant wielding a lethal iron sickle. As Sueno and Bascom attempt to investigate, it quickly becomes clear that rival factions of the local police, as well as army higher-ups, want this one to be solved on their terms. That doesn't wash with the determinedly individualistic sergeants, who, like Martin Cruz Smith's Russian investigator Arkady Renko, also battling an inflexible bureaucracy, care more about the case at hand than the politics surrounding it. Limon builds suspense expertly while gradually shedding light on the atrocity behind the murder. This is a fine, character-driven tale, drenched in fascinating Korean War history and reflecting the author's firsthand knowledge of army life.--Ott, Bill Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Limon brilliantly combines a procedural with a harrowing portrayal of the wounds of war in his ninth novel featuring U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division agents George Sueno and Ernie Bascom (after 2012's The Joy Brigade). Sueno and Bascom, who are serving in South Korea in the 1970s, have developed a reputation for pursuing the truth without regard for the consequences. They must once again balance integrity with professional (and personal) survival in the case of a Korean man, who entered the Seoul compound that houses the office responsible for claims for reparations, compensation, and damages against units attached to United States Forces Korea and slit the throat of its civilian head, C. Winston Barretsford, with a sickle. Sueno's fluency in Korean gives him an advantage in tracking the killer, even as his superiors try to divert the pair with other duties. The murderer, who left a bizarre totem, including wire and a dead rat, strikes again, upping the pressure on the partners to solve the case. The secret at the heart of the crimes is truly chilling, and Limon's nuanced characters enhance a fast-paced, carefully crafted plot. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyons Literary. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.



-1- The man with the iron sickle entered Yongsan Compound on a Monday morning in the middle of October at approximately zero seven forty-five. This is the hour when the bulk of the Korean workforce rushes through the pedestrian entrance at Gate Number Five toward the hundreds of jobs they fill in the headquarters of the 8th United States Army in Seoul, Republic of Korea. He must've shown an ID card. Most of the Korean workers wear them dangling from lanyards or clipped to their lapels. A contract-hire gate guard checked the identification of every person shuffling single file through the narrow passageway, a chore he'd performed every weekday for years. Interviewed later, he admitted he didn't have time to compare every card to every face. The crush of people was too great. So the ID card might've been a forgery or it might've been stolen, and there's at least the chance it might've been borrowed from someone else. The weather that morning had been blustery, with cold rain splashing beneath the tires of the military vehicles and the big PX Ford Granada taxis rolling through the heavily guarded gate. An American MP wearing a rain-soaked poncho slowed each vehicle and peered inside, looking for unauthorized passengers. Occasionally, he ordered a driver to stop and pop open a trunk. If no contraband was found and all the passengers showed military or dependent identification, he waved them through. At first it was thought the man with the sickle might've taken a cab onto the compound, but every PX taxi driver on duty that morning was questioned and not one admitted to taking on a non-US military fare. Dispatch records confirmed the main pickup points had been Niblo Barracks, the UN Compound, and Yongsan Compound South Post--US military installations, all--thereby corroborating their assertions. Korean taxis--often called " kimchi cabs"--are never allowed on US military compounds. What we did know was the man with the sickle was tall for a Korean, a couple of inches short of six feet, and that he wore a raindamp overcoat. After entering Gate Five, he made his way through the headquarters complex approximately a quarter mile to the 8th United States Army Claims Office. Many of the 8th Army headquarters buildings are long, stately, two-story brick edifices originally constructed during occupation by the Japanese Imperial Army. Since then, the 8th United States Army built cement block single-story offices in a row that runs behind the ornate headquarters building itself. These utilitarian constructs reach some two hundred yards to the 8th Army Judge Advocate General's Office. It was from amongst this row of buildings that the man with the sickle struck. The sickle itself was a small farm implement the Koreans call a naht , a twelve-inch, crescent-shaped blade attached to a wooden handle about a foot and a half long. It is meant to be used with one hand, most often to cut rice shoots or to trim grass. But when this otherwise innocuous instrument is sharpened to a razor's edge, it can be used quite effectively for murder. At approximately zero eight oh five, when the man with the sickle entered the front door of the 8th United States Army Claims Office, he was greeted respectfully by Mrs. Han Ok-mi, the receptionist. The man stood with his hands at his side, his overcoat buttoned, and nodded to Mrs. Han. She testified later that his speech was guttural, as if he was either extremely nervous or suffering from some sort of speech defect. She also noticed the right side of his lower lip was puffy and dark purple. Being a polite woman, she didn't stare at the deformity. The man with the sickle requested to see Mr. Barretsford, the civilian boss and the head of the 8th United States Army Claims Office. Mrs. Han asked if he had an appointment and then asked for his name, but both questions were dodged. Mrs. Han informed the man Mr. Barretsford hadn't yet arrived for work, but just as she was about to ask him to take a seat, Mr. C. Winston Barretsford barreled into the office, shucking off his raincoat and tossing his wet umbrella into a holder by the door. All the Korean employees stood. Barretsford smiled and waved a hello, then rushed into his office and shut his door. The man with the sickle asked again if he could speak to Mr. Barretsford, and Mrs. Han motioned for him to have a seat against the wall and told him she would let Mr. Barretsford know of his request. The function of the Claims Office is to evaluate the validity of claims for reparations, compensation, and damages made by outside parties against the various units attached to USFK, United States Forces Korea. There are over fifty military compounds--infantry, air force, and even a naval facility down south at the port of Chinhae--and these units are constantly on the go, training and conducting military operations in defense of "Freedom's Frontier." During these operations things get broken. Rice fields are churned up by tank tracks; pear trees are knocked over by towed artillery pieces; pedestrians are injured when convoys careen down muddy country roads. Under the ROK/US Status of Forces Agreement, the injured parties are allowed to make formal claims for reimbursement. A system for adjudicating these claims was set up outside the Korean courts and, over the years, a cadre of attorneys who specialize in such claims has developed. These men follow the troops, search out victims, and solicit claims on behalf of the injured--or not so injured--parties. For a hefty fee, they apply for reimbursement from 8th Army. That Monday morning at the Claims Office, all the workers assumed that, even though they'd never seen him before, the man asking to see Mr. Barretsford was one of those attorneys. Through the intercom Mr. Barretsford notified Mrs. Han that he would be in phone conference for at least a half hour, and if the man who wanted to see him wouldn't identify the claim he was there about, he would just have to wait. Records at the Yongsan Compound telephone exchange later revealed Mr. Barretsford had been on the phone to his wife, Evelyn Barretsford, who lived in their quarters on South Post. His wife would testify they'd been arguing about whether or not they could afford another midtour leave back to the States during Christmas break since they'd just shelled out a bundle for a trip home during their daughter Cindy's summer vacation. Finally, after slamming down the phone, Mr. Barretsford called Mrs. Han and asked her to bring three files he was working on into the office. Ever efficient, Mrs. Han already had the files ready and immediately rose from her desk and walked into Barretsford's office. According to the other workers at the Claims Office, the man with the iron sickle followed, uninvited. What happened inside the office is somewhat unclear. Mrs. Han suffered only minor cuts and bruises inflicted when she tried to intervene, but her testimony is hampered by the hysteria that is brought on every time the attack itself is mentioned. At the advice of her doctors, 8th Army law enforcement has not been allowed to interrogate her and can only go by what she managed to babble after the incident. The physical evidence was clear. The main cause of death of Mr. C. Winston Barretsford was a six-inch slash across the neck. The cut was so surgical that Barretsford was almost certainly not expecting it. Anyone, if by nothing more than reflex, would've raised their hands and stepped back to ward off the blow. The man with the sickle must've whipped the sickle out of his coat and slashed Mr. Barretsford's throat in one lightning-quick motion. It happened so fast and so unexpectedly that Mrs. Han didn't even scream right away. The workers outside testified they first heard what sounded like the desk being shoved and then Mr. Barretsford's chair falling backwards. During those few seconds, the man with the sickle lunged around Barretsford's desk and slashed him again and again with the wickedly sharp naht . By then Mrs. Han was screaming bloody murder and everything was being spattered with gore, up to and including the uppermost Venetian blinds. In all, the 8th Army coroner counted two dozen stab wounds, all delivered in rapid succession and all but the first superfluous because that one had neatly sliced Barretsford's carotid artery, damaging it beyond any hope of repair. By the time the workers outside recovered from their initial shock, the man with the sickle was already walking quickly but not hurriedly out of the office. According to at least one eyewitness, his overcoat was once again buttoned, and he seemed to be holding something beneath it. After he left, everyone rushed into Barretsford's office. Mrs. Han was still wide-eyed and screaming, and Mr. C. Winston Barretsford lay in a growing pool of his own blood. Life still pumped red from the gaping wound in his neck. Finally, an onlooker of some presence of mind called the Military Police. Excerpted from The Iron Sickle by Martin Limón All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.